Austin ISD wants to raise teacher pay by at least 5% for the next school year
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Austin ISD Chief Financial Officer Ed Ramos told school board members Thursday that compensation is the number one priority for the district’s 2023-2024 budget.
“Hiring teachers and keeping them in the district is a challenge not only for Austin ISD, but for districts across the state,” he said.
Austin ISD’s goal is to increase classroom teacher pay by at least 5%. Ramos said the growth is essential to compete with surrounding Central Texas school districts. He told AISD administrators that while district salaries are competitive for teachers with zero to five years of experience, salaries for veteran teachers lag. He is particularly focused on getting Austin ISD’s salary on par with Hays CISD, one of the highest paying districts in the area.
“They made a very aggressive move last year,” he said. “Our goal is to capture that district within the next two years and actually be the highest paying district in Central Texas within the next two years.”
Austin ISD administrators are also proposing raises for classified staff as well as administrative and professional staff. About 87% of the district budget is for the salary of employees.
Brandi Hosack, the district’s chief human capital officer, said it’s vital to create the best possible compensation package, but there may be tough decisions ahead to achieve that.
“There are a finite number of dollars and an infinite amount of needs,” she said.
Compensation is also a top priority for Austin ISD school board members, many of whom have been teachers themselves. Board Vice President Kevin Foster, who represents District 3, said administrators need to think outside the box to raise salaries significantly.
“I don’t care about a 5% raise for teachers. I’m interested in a complete reimagining that matches what some places around the country have done,” he said.
Ideally, new teachers would earn at least $70,000, he said. The current starting salary for Austin ISD teachers is just over $52,000 – not including bonuses and other stipends.
Trustee Kathryn Whitley Chu, who represents District 4, previously taught in Austin ISD and Round Rock ISD. She asked district officials to look at other urban districts beyond Central Texas to determine what competitive teacher salaries would be.
“We’re basically training teachers to leave our district and go somewhere else and be compensated more,” she said.
District 6 Trustee Andrew Gonzales was an Austin ISD teacher who resigned after the 2021-2022 school year. He said while compensation is crucial, the district must not forget to provide other types of support to teachers that make it possible for them to do their jobs.
“I just don’t want us to become myopic about increasing compensation as the answer to everything,” he said.
Other top priorities for district and school board members include more funding for special education, multilingual education and mental health.
Ramos said Austin ISD is in the early stages of developing its budget for the upcoming school year and is holding virtual and in-person events through early March to get feedback on what funding priorities should be.
He also noted that the budget is based on current state law, but the Texas Legislature could make changes during the 88th session that affect their calculations.
“We know that the state is coming into this legislative session with a surplus of 33 billion dollars,” said Ramos. “So there are opportunities for education funding, and so we will again be very active in advocating that some of those dollars be used to increase education funding.”
Democratic lawmakers have filed bills to fund public schools based on enrollment, rather than attendance. Other bills seek to increase per-student funding, known as the base allocation. Both of these measures would increase state funding for public education. The increase in base allocation would reduce Austin ISD’s payment to the recapture system.
The recapture system, also known as Robin Hood, takes money from property-rich school districts and distributes it to districts that can’t raise as much money through property taxes. Austin ISD has by far the highest recapture payout of any school district in Texas. Ramos said, without changes, the fee will continue to rise because enrollment in Austin ISD schools is flat while property values continue to rise. The county projects 54.5% of revenue collected from the maintenance and operation tax rate will be subject to recapture.
Ramos said last year Austin ISD sent $761 million to the state. The recapture payout this year is expected to be $846 million.