School's Out, but AISD Pay Raise Talk Goes On

Debate over salary increase details carries on at AISD


Ken Zarifis (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Austin ISD may have shut down for the summer, but the debate continues over how much staff will see in their pay packet when the next school year starts.

A planned pay raise is part of the 2016 budget, to be finalized when trustees reconvene in August. Originally, the administration proposed a 1.5% raise across the board, plus an extra 1.5% for teachers and librarians with more than five years experience, costing the district $10.43 million total. That base 1.5% runs ahead of the national inflation rate of 0.8% in 2014, but would still lag badly behind cost-of-living increases in Austin. Education Austin President Ken Zarifis said, "1.5 percent won't make someone leave or not," and he's pressing for a 5% increase. That's a significant divide, but it's getting smaller, with a new board proposal of 3% for everyone.

The district increased staff salaries by 2% last year, after several years of pay freezes and one-off raises that effectively counted as bonuses, not wages. This time around, it's not that the board blindly opposes the union's latest request. Trustee Robert Schneider said, "I strongly believe in a 5 percent raise for teachers. In fact, I'd like to see more." However, he went on, "given the amount of money we're getting from the state, I don't see a path to doing that."


Gina Hinojosa (Photo by John Anderson)

Board President Gina Hinojosa said she's just trying to find a consensus position, and said the board broke for the summer with some unity over the 3%. There was some discussion about committing to an extra 2% in the 2016-17 school year, but, she said, "the administration did not feel it could commit dollars behind the second year of the plan."

The district faces an ever more complex balancing act, and that is driving ever more cautious budgeting. As the biggest single contributor to state coffers under the Robin Hood school property tax recapture system, AISD is in a multimillion-dollar hole that only gets deeper. As a result of this cash outflow, it was the worst-paying of Texas' 10 biggest urban school districts in 2014, and the third-worst of 10 districts in the greater Austin metro area. Historically, it stayed competitive due to comparatively good and cheap health insurance for employees. But employee contributions and premiums have risen dramatically in recent years, making AISD less attractive to new employees, and even worse at retaining skilled staff. Without a raise, both trustees and union leadership predict those struggles will only get worse.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Ken Zarifis, Robert Schneider, Gina Hinojosa, Austin ISD, pay raise

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