The South San Antonio ISD school board.
The South San Antonio ISD school board is to meet next week to vote on the 2019-20 budget. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

At the board’s fourth meeting in four weeks, South San Antonio Independent School District trustees voted 4-3 to approve pay raises for district employees and teachers, but only after weeks of debate about how much money to spend and several tense exchanges Wednesday night.

South San district staff first presented a variety of options for State-mandated pay raises at a July 31 meeting. Districts are required to use 30 percent of new money from House Bill 3, a school finance package approved in the last legislative session, to boost staff compensation.

South San is required to spend at least $2.4 million, with $1.8 million dedicated to compensation increases for teachers, counselors, librarians, and nurses.

Trustee Gilbert Rodriguez wasn’t satisfied with the options district staff presented, all of which exceeded the State-mandated $2.4 million. He requested a new proposal closer to the mandated amount with the district’s highest-paid administrators excluded, including Chief of Staff James Schumann, with whom Rodriguez has had tense exchanges.

Rodriguez’s proposal, termed Model or Plan E, which members of the board majority approved Wednesday night, awards teachers, librarians, counselors, and nurses with five years or less in the classroom $2,600, or on average a 4.7 percent raise, and those same employees with six or more years an increase of $3,200, or an average of 5.7 percent. The plan was initially presented at last week’s board meeting.

“I do not believe that House Bill 3 is sustainable, as there are too many unknowns,” Rodriguez said. “Plan E is the most economical, Plan E is the least expensive, Plan E is also extremely competitive.”

Administrators will get a 2 percent raise and staff in technology, clerical support, instructional support, auxiliary, and police departments will receive 5 percent increases.

The approved plan increases total compensation by $2.9 million.

The plan excludes seven positions on the highest pay scales within the administration. Those excluded from pay increases are the executive director of curriculum and instruction, the executive director of student support services, the executive principal of the Early College High School, the executive director of business and finance, the chief academic officer, chief financial officer, and chief of staff.

Flores previously recommended a proposal that would give 5 percent increases to teachers with less than five years of classroom experience, 6 percent to teachers with more than five years’ experience, 3 percent to administrative and professional employees, and 6 percent to all other employees. The plan would cost $3.1 million.

Trustee Elda Flores moved to support the superintendent’s recommendation but failed to gain needed board support.

“I feel that all our employees deserve this compensation plan,” Elda Flores said. “Model E excludes some employees from that plan, [and] the difference between Model A and Model E is $276,000 … I believe this is sustainable.”

On Wednesday night in the board’s fifth budget workshop, Chief Financial Officer Bettinae Kaiser presented a 2019-20 budget proposal for trustees to approve at a future meeting. Kaiser proposed a balanced budget, with $2.4 million in reductions from previous proposals that had projected deficits.

Kaiser proposed saving $1.2 million by leaving vacant positions open. The positions include a counselor at Zamora Middle School, safety and security coordinator on the administrative level, and 14 teaching positions. Without getting into specifics, she also proposed another $1.2 million in reductions by cutting 10 percent from various areas of the budget. 

Board President Connie Prado made her own recommendations to start the new year with a small surplus. She recommended pulling $300,000 from the workers’ compensation fund, cutting $1.8 million from various, unspecified areas of the budget, and eliminating five administrative professional positions. Prado asked the superintendent to review her recommendations prior to the next meeting on Aug. 21.

Trustee Elda Flores recommended increasing some stipends offered to teachers to remain competitive with other districts.

Trustees are expected to meet next Wednesday to approve the budget prior to the start of the new fiscal year on Sept. 1.

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.