San Antonio Independent School District teachers and staff could be getting a raise anywhere from 2% to 9% in the coming years under a variety of proposals presented at a board meeting Tuesday night.
If adequate pay increases aren’t offered, many staff members and teachers warned trustees during the public comment session that they will leave the district.
Dozens of teachers, cafeteria workers and librarians spoke, sometimes tearfully, about the necessity of holding second or third jobs, falling behind on car payments and, in some cases, facing homelessness.
Librarians also spoke out against the removal of certified professionals at some campus libraries. It is not clear how many employees were affected.
Monica Dickson, who has been a teacher with the district for more than two decades, said she was encouraged early in her career to return to school to get a master’s degree, something that came with more debt.
As a result, she said it took her years to build up a savings of around $800. Those savings have been depleted due to the rising cost of living, she said.
“I now have $200 left,” she said. “This month I will use that last $200 to cover bills, groceries and gas. In less than four months, I will have used all my savings that took me five years to build up.”
“I don’t know what’s going to happen to me and my daughter in the next few months,” she said through tears.
Alejandra Lopez, the president of the San Antonio Alliance, a union representing teachers and staff, said the proposals on the table are a result of organizing by the union in the last year.
The first three options, which were requested by board members, would be flat general pay increases of either 3%, 6% or 9%.
Those raises would cost the district between $54 million and $160 million dollars over the next five years, according to a district presentation.
Anything under 6% was a non-starter for union members, Lopez said, citing the rate of inflation in recent years.
The fourth option would be a 4% increase in the 2023-24 school year and a 2% increase in the 2024-25 school year. The second increase would be suggested but not adopted until the next budget year, according to the presentation.
That plan would cost the district $99.9 million over the next five years.
Another three options would include general increases initially, with raises in the coming years increasing for teachers based on years of experience.
The fifth option would be a 2% general pay increase, with a sliding scale of raises dependent on “teacher raise bands.” Teachers with 15 years or more experience would get a 9% raise; those with 10-14 years would get a 6% raise; a 3% raise for those with 5-9 years; and 2% for those with 0-4 years.
The sixth proposal would be a 3% general increase and an incremental increase starting at 3% at year zero and 9% at year 20.
The last proposal would be a 3% general increase and an incremental increase starting at 3% at year zero and 6% at year 20.
The budget presentation is one part of a long process before one is adopted. A workshop will take place Monday, and three more meetings will take place before a planned vote in late June to adopt a budget.
Union members will meet early next month to discuss the options and make a decision on how to proceed, Lopez said.
While board members and Superintendent Jaime Aquino agreed that raises were needed, they said the district was working with limited funds and would face difficult choices in order to give raises and maintain a balanced budget. SAISD is facing declining enrollment, high inflation and the end of federal pandemic relief funds in the coming months.
Aquino said teachers should raise their concerns with lawmakers as the Texas Legislature decides how to spend a $33 billion budget surplus.
“In order to really give you what you deserve, and show you the love and the value that you deserve as a member of our familia, is going to take us beyond this board and beyond my administration,” he said. “We have fixed revenue that comes to us. That really ties our hands.”
“This is not an SAISD issue,” he added. “If it were an SAISD issue … this issue would have been solved.”
Lopez, the union president, said support is needed from both the district and the Legislature.
“We are in such a moment of crisis in public education that everyone in an elected position has an opportunity to — and absolutely must be — prioritizing public education,” she said. “We need investment in public education, and that must come through increased funding at the state level. But it’s also incumbent on our board trustees to understand that if they want this district to be the world-class destination that we all want it to be, then they have to invest in their staff.”
Trustee Ed Garza said that in order to implement the raises teachers need and deserve, the board will be required to take action to right-size the district.
The enrollment of the district has nearly been cut in half over the last decade, he noted, while the district has only closed a handful of schools.
“The elephant in the room is the enrollment, and then our facilities,” he said.
Garza compared the situation to a conversation he had with another elected official, who was moving into a smaller house after his children left home.
“So as a familia we have to have that conversation,” he said. “The size of our family has drastically been reduced … but our house remains the same.”
“I’m ready to have that conversation,” he added.
Trustees at two other school districts in the region — Harlandale and South San Antonio ISDs — are also having discussions about school closures as a result of budget deficits and enrollment declines.
Other SAISD trustees echoed frustration with the state, which is considering legislation that could allow parents to use public funding for private schools.
“I am also terrified about what is happening at the state level,” board President Christina Martinez said. “I’m terrified that we may find ourselves having even less money to do the work that we need to do.”
In addition to advocating for higher pay, some staff were advocating to keep their jobs.
City Councilwoman Teri Castillo (D5) said she was concerned after hearing from librarians who were losing their jobs.
“I see plenty of opportunity with new leadership to make sure that we have the adequate staff and support personnel,” she said.
During the public comment session, Castillo advocated for pay raises across the board and led a chant with workers at a rally before the meeting,
Valeria Perez, the librarian at Whittier Middle School, said that she found out a week before spring break her job as a certified librarian would not be renewed next year. Whittier’s enrollment declined from about 930 students in 2011 to about 740 in 2021, according to Texas Education Agency records.
“The first thing I thought was what a disservice to our students and our community,” she told the San Antonio Report. “We are the largest resource on every campus.”
In addition to the loss of staff, Perez said libraries haven’t been adequately funded — with only $1 allotted per student, per year, $7 below the state’s recommended spending amount.
“Nothing is sadder than a student who wants to read and can’t get into the library,” Tina Duffy, a librarian at Longfellow Middle School, told the board. Duffy told the San Antonio Report that she is not losing her job next year.
Laura Short, a spokeswoman for the district, said in a statement emailed to the San Antonio Report that staffing allocation is adjusted every year in response to student enrollment changes.
“This is a process that occurs each year,” she said. “Important functions, like library services, will continue to be provided at all campuses.”
Perez, the librarian, said that those functions will likely be filled by professionals who are not certified librarians, a title that requires a master’s degree to obtain.
“In cases where library services will be provided by staff other than certified librarians, we will work with affected librarians to place them in other roles equivalent to their qualifications,” Short said. “Individuals affected are given first priority for other positions for which they qualify.”