The La Joya Independent School District may reward employees with another $2,500 retention stipend.
Trustees discussed the retention stipend during two work sessions in March, when the school board reviewed ways to recruit and retain teachers.
“They have taken care of us,” said Trustee Espie Ochoa. “And we need to take care of them.”
Employees who returned for the 2021-2022 school year received a $2,500 stipend. Under the proposal, employees who return for the 2022-2023 school year would receive another $2,500 stipend.
The retention stipend would cost about $10.5 million, according to Assistant Superintendent Yvonne Flores-Ayala, who briefed the school board during the work sessions.
La Joya ISD would pay for the stipend with Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds, which Congress approved in 2020 as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
Along with the retention stipend, the school board discussed a $1,200 “signing stipend” for new teachers who sign a contract for the 2022-2023 school year before Aug. 1.
Flores-Ayala estimated the signing stipend would cost about $120,000. La Joya ISD would cover the cost with ESSER funds.
Trustees also discussed a proposal to increase pay for new teachers.
The Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District, the Mission Consolidated Independent School District, the Donna Independent School District and the South Texas Independent School District all pay entry-level teachers at least $53,000, according to information reviewed by the school board.
La Joya ISD, though, pays entry-level teachers just $52,150.
To stay competitive, administrators suggested the school board review two compensation proposals.
The first proposal would increase entry-level teacher pay to $53,000 and cost La Joya ISD nearly $2.3 million. The second would increase entry-level pay to $54,000 and cost nearly $3 million.
“The $54,000 would put us at the top,” said board President Alda T. Benavides. “If the others don’t make any changes to their starting salary for teachers.”
Where the district will find the money to increase teacher pay remains unclear.
Texas funds school districts based on the number of students who attend classes.
Enrollment at La Joya ISD, though, peaked in 2015, when the district had about 29,690 students, according to information reviewed by the school board. By 2021, enrollment had dropped to about 26,660.
La Joya ISD projects enrollment will drop about 4.8% next school year, according to a presentation from Chief Financial Officer Joel Treviño.
Administrators presented the school board with several plans to save money, which included shutting down the Howling Trails Golf Course, closing elementary schools with low enrollment and eliminating administrative positions.
Treviño also suggested La Joya ISD ask employees to pay $20 per month for the basic, employee-only health insurance plan. Under the current plan, employees don’t pay anything.
Trustees appeared to support many cost-cutting proposals, but shutting down elementary schools remains deeply unpopular.
During a work session in April 2021, the school board rejected a proposal to shut down Kika De La Garza Elementary School, Leo James Leo Elementary School and Rosendo Benavides Elementary School. Administrators brought the proposal to shut down Kika De La Garza Elementary School back in February 2022.
The board president made a motion to approve the proposal, but nobody seconded it — and the motion died without any discussion.
“At this point, for me, that’s not an option,” said Trustee Alex Cantu.