Tyler ISD Considers Stipends Not Raises
By EMILY GUEVARA
Tyler ISD administrators are proposing to provide one-time stipends to employees next school year as a way of increasing their pay without giving raises.
The stipends, which would range from $650 to $1,300 depending upon the employee's status, would be in place of raises and provide the district flexibility if the state cuts or maintains public education funding for future school years.
"This is something kind of new because we don't know what the Legislature is going to do (so) you hesitate to give a raise," Chief Financial Officer Tosha Bjork said by phone.
Ms. Bjork said most districts she has talked with are doing the same thing. Offering stipends instead of raises means the districts don't have to maintain the pay increase the next budget year if they don't have the funds.
If approved, the TISD stipends will amount to $3 million districtwide. The district set aside this money from its general fund last year after receiving federal funds that helped pay salaries.
Ms. Bjork said the majority of the district's employees are full-time and, provided they meet the criteria, will receive the full $1,300 amount.
Employees who work part-time will be paid a fraction of the amount corresponding to their work time.
Employees who work 75 percent of full-time would receive 75 percent of the $1,300 or $975. Employees who work 50 percent or less of full-time will receive 50 percent of the $1,300 or $650, according to district information.
To qualify for their entire amount, employees must have been employed by Feb. 6 of this year. People employed after that date but by Sept. 15 of this year would qualify for half of their applicable stipend, according to district information.
The amount would be paid in two payments -- one in December and one in May.
It's been two years since TISD teachers received a raise and three years since all other employees received raises, Ms. Bjork said.
She said the decision to give a stipend is somewhat unusual for TISD but warranted given the current state funding situation.
TISD's share of state funding cuts totaled almost $7 million this school year. The district will see $1.9 million in additional state funding cuts next school year, Ms. Bjork said.
The district's current budget is about $130 million and Ms. Bjork said she will present information about next year's budget during the May meeting.
"Our budget's done pretty early this year because we knew where we stood and all," Ms. Bjork said.
Jamie Womack, a Tyler-based field representative for the Texas affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, said she supports the stipend proposal because it benefits teachers while keeping the district on solid financial footing.
Ms. Womack said if TISD committed itself to salary increases and the Legislature cuts public education funding in the 2013 session, the district might have to cut salaries, positions and/or programs, none of which would be good moves.
"It's better to do it this way (until) the economy picks up, the Legislature goes back in session and we see what they're going to do," she said.
Mike Cooper, a Plyler Alternative School teacher, didn't view the proposal so positively.
Cooper, 52, who teaches middle school social studies, said it's discouraging even though he understands why the district is doing it.
He said with prices increasing for gas and other products, $1,300 doesn't seem like a lot of money especially when compared to some of the district's central office salaries. He said he doesn't want to complain because it is something, but it's disheartening.
"It certainly doesn't motivate me," he said. "When the time comes, I'll need the money and I'll use it. I think more than anything, it's just discouraging."
He said if the district cannot provide raises, it could possibly come up with other ways to reward employees.
Joanette Duncan viewed the possible stipend as a positive. Ms. Duncan, 54, started teaching four years ago after working 20 years at Carrier.
The Orr Elementary School art teacher is raising two elementary-age grandchildren and said money gets tight sometimes.
"Gas is almost $4 a gallon," she said. "Kids, they're outgrowing their clothes as fast as I can put them in. Groceries, they're sky high. You know, it just really is not enough."
She said she enjoys her job and doesn't complain about the pay, but she would like the TISD board to approve the stipend for next school year.
"Even if it's just one time, it's just one time," she said. "It would help me. I feel like if they vote on it, it's worth it. I feel like as a teacher, we really deserve it."
The school board is scheduled to vote on the recommendation during its Thursday meeting.