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La Joya ISD approves nearly $396 million budget, including big raises for teachers

This article originally appeared in the Friday Aug. 30, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.

The La Joya school board on Wednesday approved a nearly $396 million budget, which included higher pay for teachers and a significant raise for support staff.

To balance the budget — which included nearly $391 million in revenue and nearly $396 million in spending — the board pulled about $5 million from the fund balance.

LJISD Logo“At the end of the day, we balanced it and they did an amazing job with it,” said school board Vice President Alex Cantu, who thanked Superintendent Gisela Saenz and her team for preparing a budget that positioned the district for success. “And we were able to give the raise that we approved as a board.”

Districts across Texas approved higher pay for teachers with funding provided by state lawmakers, who passed a major education reform bill in May.

House Bill 3 increased state funding from $4,765 to $6,160 per student. That amount, called the “basic allotment,” is based on average daily attendance.

Lawmakers required school districts to spend a significant part of that money on teacher compensation.
The La Joya Independent School District approved a plan that adjusts teacher pay based on experience.

Teachers with 1 to 5 years of experience will receive a $3,250 pay increase, according to information released by the district. Teachers with 6 to 10 years of experience will receive a $3,650 pay increase. Teachers with 11 to 20 years of experience will receive a $4,050 pay increase. And teachers with 21 or more years of experience will receive a $4,450 pay increase.

“The pay raises are appreciated,” said J.J. Luna, an American Federation of Teachers representative who attended the meeting. “I know that teachers are happy.”

Librarians and nurses will receive the same pay increases provided to teachers.

All other employees will receive a 6% pay increase based on the salary midpoint for their position.

For example, an employee who holds a position with a salary range of $30,000 to $60,000 would receive a raise based on the midpoint: $45,000. The 6% raise would increase that employee’s salary by $2,700.

Trustees also rejected a proposal to increase health insurance premiums by $40 per month, which proved deeply unpopular.

As a result, however, the district health insurance fund will remain on precarious financial footing.

The budget projects $28.3 million in health insurance fund revenue and about $29.6 million in health insurance fund spending. To balance the budget, administrators plan to transfer nearly $1.3 million from the workers’ compensation fund.

Other funds with operating deficits include the Sports and Learning Complex, where the district projects that expenses will exceed revenues by nearly $18,000; the Howling Trails golf course, where the district projects expenses will exceed revenues by about $165,000; and the print shop, where the district projects expenses will exceed revenues by nearly $224,000, according to documents reviewed by the school board.

“I think in future committee meetings, we’re going to be having some discussions to address certain needs that we have in our school district,” said Trustee Espie Ochoa. “And just to make sure that we’re more conservative.”

The budget kept the property tax rate at $1.311 per $100 of taxable assessed valuation. Every penny adds $10 to the annual tax bill for a piece of property worth $100,000.

Thanks to additional funding provided by the state, many school districts significantly reduced taxes. La Joya didn’t.

“We don’t want to be a burden to our community but at the same time we know that the understanding is that we need to provide the best resources for our kids,” Cantu said, adding that trustees approved the property tax rate recommended by administrators. “At the end of the day, we can’t shortchange them. So we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do.”

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