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La Joya ISD approves $399 million budget, 2% raise for employees

The La Joya school board on Wednesday approved a $399 million budget that kept the property tax rate unchanged and included a 2% raise for employees.

Along with the raise, trustees approved a $2,500 retention stipend.

“I wish we could have done a lot more,” said Trustee Mary T. Hernandez, but the school board had to balance employee compensation with fiscal constraints.

The 2021-2022 budget included $384 million in projected revenue and $399 million in projected expenses. Trustees covered the difference by pulling $15 million from the fund balance.

Under the budget approved Wednesday, the La Joya Independent School District property tax rate would remain unchanged at $1.311 per $100 of taxable assessed valuation. It’s among the highest in Hidalgo County, according to information published by the appraisal district.

Trustees haven’t touched the tax rate since 2010, when the rate dropped from $1.3216 to $1.311, according to data published by the school district.

While the budget included a proposed tax rate, the school board plans to formally adopt the tax rate in August.

Property taxes, however, account for just 11% of the La Joya ISD budget, according to documents reviewed by the school board on Wednesday afternoon. The vast majority — 89% — comes from state and federal sources.

La Joya ISD employs more than 4,100 people, according to salary data released by the school district. They’re scheduled for a 2% pay raise during the 2021-2022 fiscal year, which starts on Sept. 1.

Employee raises will be calculated based on the “job grade midpoint” for the position.

That means an employee who holds a position with a salary range of $20,000 to $40,000 would receive a 2% raise based on the midpoint for the position: $30,000.

Along with the raise, trustees approved a $2,500 retention stipend and a $250 vaccination stipend. Teachers will also receive a $500 technology stipend.

La Joya ISD kept the health insurance premium for an employee-only plan at $0, a point of pride for the school board. The district pays $5,604 per employee for health insurance.

The La Joya American Federation of Teachers, which had requested a 5% raise and a $5,000 stipend, called the district compensation plan a “huge victory.”

“We want to thank our La Joya ISD school board trustees for working with us on our employee compensation proposal,” said Brenda Lee Salinas, a teacher at Tabasco Elementary School who serves as president of the La Joya American Federation of Teachers. “We are grateful and appreciate your dedicated service to our teachers, students, staff and communities.”

Salinas, though, questioned why La Joya ISD didn’t extend the technology stipend to counselors, librarians and other non-teachers.

“Our members who were not eligible to receive the $500 technology stipend feel unappreciated,” Salinas said. “They work extremely hard and incurred technology expenses during the COVID-19 pandemic. We do not want their dedication and commitment to our district to go unnoticed.”

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