Texas teachers could see pay raises if East Texas lawmaker's bill passes special session

 

While lawmakers never quite reached the $5,000 teacher raises they tried to sell the public on, local districts are doing what they can to ensure teachers are seeing their biggest raises in years.

An analysis of data from local school districts shows that Smith County area districts are digging deep into local funds to ensure teachers are getting bigger pay bumps than usual. While most teachers will not see a salary increase of $5,000, most in the area will benefit from raises at least twice as large as those given in the past two years, if raises were given at all.

House Bill 3, which overhauled school finance, swapped 7 cents from local property taxes with increased state funding. As part of the bill, the state is requiring districts to use at least 30% of new funding for raises, with 75% of that 30% earmarked for teachers, nurses, counselors and librarians and the other 25% at the district’s discretion.

The amount each district received varies with the size of the school system and its budget, ranging in Smith County area schools from $13 million in Troup ISD to $160 million in Tyler ISD. The amount districts saw in increases also varies by the rate of economically disadvantaged students.

HB 3 also requires school districts to increase salaries to new state minimums by years of experience. Most Smith County schools only needed to make adjustments for teachers near the high end of the spectrum.

Lindale ISD Superintendent Stan Surratt said that while the increases are certainly a good thing, Texas remains in the bottom half of teacher pay in the nation. He also expressed concern over how competitive very small, rural districts can be when they’re likely to spend most of their increases just getting teachers up to state minimums.

The data shows that larger districts in the area will benefit most from the increases in HB 3 with some offering significant raises, while smaller districts will be able to move teachers up to state minimums and offer marginal raises over that threshold.

Troup ISD will be able to offer pay raises for the first time in at least three years, with more than $300,000 of its $511,000 in raises going toward meeting state minimum salary requirements. The district plans to spend $12,500 over the 30% required by the state.

Meanwhile, Jacksonville ISD is using local funds to spend 240% more than required, giving teachers the largest raises in the history of the district and some of the biggest increases reported in the state.

The state-required portion of the increases for Jacksonville comes to $1,438,119, but the district will spend $3,767,207 in order to give teachers raises. Those teachers with less than five years of experience will receive raises of $7,000, while those with five or more years will get $7,500. The district also will raise its first-year teacher salary to $44,000. The new state minimum is $34,390 for a teacher in their first year.

Brad Stewart, Jacksonville’s associate superintendent of personnel, called the raises a game changer for recruitment and retention, in a statement announcing the initiative.

Winona is taking a different approach to retention, with raises of $2,700 to $7,000 depending on years of experience and offering teachers a $2,000 stipend when they sign their contract to return for the 2020-21 school year.

Superintendent Cody Mize said the retention bonus will come from $350,000 in local funds, which is about half of what the district plans to spend on raises this year. Winona also is investing $100,000 into a partnership with the University of Texas at Tyler to help more teachers earn master’s degrees in curriculum and instruction. Additionally, the district has budgeted $300,000 for teacher incentive pay. Details on the incentive program are not yet available.

Mineola ISD teachers will receive pay raises above the state-required amounts starting this school year. The district’s Board of Trustees voted Aug. 5 to grant pay raises for all personnel, with teachers receiving well above the state requirement, according to a district news release.

Teachers with zero to four years of experience will receive a minimum of $3,000 and all teachers with five years or more will receive $3,600 minimum.

An additional adjustment will be made to teacher salaries in order to keep them above the new state hiring scale, the news release states.

Mineola ISD will continue to pay above the new state salary schedule and the new salary for beginning teachers will increase to $38,700 this year. Mineola teachers also receive a $2,000 stipend for having a master’s degree.

Clerical and auxiliary staff will receive a 3% increase based on midpoint ranges of job classifications and administrators will receive a 1.5% increase of their midpoint salary range.

“The commitment of MISD to recognize the amazing work of staff and the value of our teachers is evident with the decision to invest 40% of the new funding into salaries,” Superintendent Dr. Kim Tunnell said. “The decision to support our teachers with 8% over the required amount is validation of their hard work and dedication to our students.”

Tyler ISD, the largest school district in East Texas, is planning to spend $6 million, or about twice the amount required, for raises ranging from $2,500 to $4,000.

Teachers also will continue to see more of their paychecks as the district renews its self-paid health insurance plan for the 2019-20 school year. This self-paid plan costs about $400 less per month for employee only and $12,600 less annually for the option covering the entire family, for Tyler ISD’s Plan B compared with the state’s TRS-AC plan. The district said Plan B is the most popular option among employees.

Districts also are setting aside money for the rest of their employees, with Jacksonville ISD leading the pack, offering a 10% of midpoint raise to all other employees, followed by Chapel Hill at 7%.

Raises have not been finalized in many districts as they continue the budgeting process through this month.

A statewide analysis is not yet available, but based on an early look from the Texas Tribune, East Texas seems to follow the pattern of districts across the state.

TWITTER: @TMT_Cory

Cory is a multimedia journalist and member of the Education Writers Association, Criminal Justice Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. He has appeared on Crime Watch Daily and Grave Mysteries on Investigation Discovery.

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