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La Joya school board approves $250 holiday bonus for employees

The La Joya school board approved a $250 holiday bonus for teachers, administrators and staff on Monday.

Trustees discussed the holiday bonus during a special meeting on Monday afternoon.

“We want to make sure that our employees know that we want to take care of them and their families. Because we know that a lot of our employees, especially our auxiliary and classified and support staff, they’re the ones that make a little less than your administration and your professionals,” said school board Trustee Oscar “Coach” Salinas. “So we want to make sure that we provide as much as we can to make their Christmas and their family’s Christmas a merry Christmas.”

The La Joya Independent School District employs about 4,400 people, according to salary data released by the district in January. Handing a $250 holiday bonus to every employee will cost the district about $1.1 million.

The holiday bonus — officially called “one-time supplemental pay” — wasn’t budgeted.

“We’re looking at moving things around,” Salinas said, when asked how the school district would pay for the holiday bonus. “We’re not going to touch anything that has to do with students.”

Trustees approved a $500 holiday bonus last year, double what they approved on Monday.

“They’re appreciative of what they’re getting,” said J.J. Luna, an American Federation of Teachers representative who attended the meeting.

Whether or not La Joya ISD would approve a holiday bonus remained an open question until Monday.

The Texas Legislature passed a major education bill in May, which sent millions to local school districts. Lawmakers earmarked part of the money for teacher pay.

La Joya ISD teachers with one to five years of experience received a $3,250 raise. Teachers with six to 10 years of experience received a $3,650 raise. Teachers with 11 to 20 years of experience received a $4,050 raise. And teachers with more than 21 years of experience received a $4,450 raise.

Librarians and nurses received identical pay increases. Other employees received a 6 percent raise based on the midpoint salary for their positions.

The school board, which approved the pay and benefits package in August, discussed the holiday bonus Monday.

“I just feel that, yes, we did give a big raise this year in the summer, but I think that anything goes a long ways, especially around this time of year,” said school board Trustee Alex Cantu. “It’s just a token of appreciation for everything our employees do.”

Trustees spent about 50 minutes in executive session, where they reviewed the numbers with attorneys and administrators. When they returned from the boardroom, trustees unanimously approved the holiday bonus without any public discussion.

Before the school board adjourned, Superintendent Gisela Saenz read a prepared statement.

Saenz said the school board, which approved a $500 holiday bonus in 2018, had approved a smaller, $250 holiday bonus for 2019.

She also summarized the substantial pay increases approved by the school board during the 2017-2018 school year, the 2018-2019 school year and the 2019-2020 school year.

“I think this continues to show our board appreciates our teachers,” Saenz said. “Our board is being frugal in safeguarding the resources for our teachers and our students because the number one commitment of this board is student achievement and taking care of resources for students and for teachers. And, at the same time, offering our staff a $250 one-time supplemental pay.”

Board President Espie Ochoa said employees had earned the holiday bonus.

“We wish we could have given a larger supplemental pay,” Ochoa said, but trustees needed to balance employee compensation with other budgetary concerns.

This article originally appeared in the Friday Dec. 20, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.

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