HISD teachers should receive their step pay raise this year after all, after an amendment proposed by Trustee Elizabeth Santos narrowly passed at last week’s regular Board of Trustees meeting – but it remains to be seen where administrators will be able to find the funds.
Santos’ amendment shot down administrators’ proposal that would have frozen educators’ salaries at the 2017-2018 level for the upcoming year as the district attempts to navigate a budget shortfall. Trustees passed the amendment by a 5-4 margin, with Diana Davila, Anne Sung, Sergio Lira, Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, and Santos voting in favor.
“Our teachers need that step raise – it’s the one thing they thought would be given to them,” Santos said. “It’s paying them for the experience that they’re bringing back to the classroom.”
“It’s the issue of not respecting and maintaining the experienced teachers’ step pay that has been there in the past,” Lira said. “We have to continue to project the value of our teachers, and especially of our experienced teachers. We need to value them.”
Among fellow trustees greater concerns, however, is determining a source of funding for the step raises, which would cost about $5 million according to HISD Chief Financial Officer Rene Barajas.
“I believe that teachers should be paid what they’re worth – I agree wholeheartedly. But if we make any amendments to the budget – which has already been passed – my concern is that we must identify where those dollars are going to come from,” said Trustee Wanda Adams, who voted against the pay increase. “We can’t just say the money is there without identifying the source…you cannot spend what you do not have.”
“Our fiscal responsibility is to ensure that this district is functioning. We’re already operating at a deficit,” added Rhonda Skillern-Jones, who also voted in opposition. “Governance requires due diligence, and to make a blanket amendment and not know how to pay for it does not seem fiscally responsible.”
Officials declined to say how the $5 million would be accounted for, though verbiage in Santos’ proposal prohibits layoffs and salary cuts to pay for the additional spending. The largest gaffe, trustees say, remains that the compensation proposal was not brought forward to trustees earlier.
Board members were not made aware of administration’s proposed salary schedule until weeks after teachers signed contracts for the 2018-2019 school year.
Thus, none of them were aware their salaries would be frozen until mere weeks before students return to school.
“We need to honor our words, we need to operate with integrity,” Flynn-Vilaseca said. “I would encourage administration to go back and take a look at some of the different areas where we can move forward and honor our word to our educators.”
Further, district administrators confirmed a discussion on allocation of teacher funds was never brought up in budget creation meetings leading up to the passing of HISD’s $2.1 billion budget in June – leading to more trustee reservations until a source is identified.
“We’re in very dangerous territory if we pass this without determining where the money comes from,” Deigaard said.
Teachers in HISD rank among the lowest in terms of similar-experience teacher salary, falling at least $2,000 short of the region’s highest-paid teachers with similar years of experience.