Trustees reassess Sharyland ISD employee compensation plan
Sharyland administrators said they have been working to find the funds to provide raises to district employees. But because the state government did not supply additional funding to public schools during the 2023 regular legislative session, SISD and other districts throughout Texas have had to delay employee raises.
The Sharyland trustees said they have received phone calls and texts from district employees asking about increased compensation since the board approved the 2023-2024 budget in June. Former Sharyland ISD Principal Anthony Limon — a subject of contention last year when the district reassigned him to a new role — has made several public comments regarding staff raises.
“The next time you go to H-E-B, and you look at that bill and how little you have in that basket, think about how you haven’t given the teachers a raise,” Limon said to the trustees. “I’ve talked to former superintendents and they tell me you guys are capable of making changes and looking into this to give teachers and staff a raise. I have my faith in you guys.”
But Sharyland has been acting on the advice of its financial advisors and the Texas Education Agency.
The SISD school board approved the district’s $116.9 million budget before the 88th Texas Legislature’s regular session ended. At the time, Chief Financial Officer Jaime Ortega said TEA and SISD’s financial analysts advised them to hold off on passing a compensation plan. They wanted to wait for state leaders to vote on school funding, which Gov. Greg Abbott assured the public was a priority for the 2023 legislative session.
However, the result proved to be disappointing for educators.
In a year with a record-breaking $321.3 billion in state funds, the Texas government failed to address longstanding issues with school finances, including teacher compensation. Teachers were the only state employees legislators did not provide raises for, even after Abbott assembled a task force that made specific recommendations for increasing teacher retention and recruitment.
Now, state leaders are in the middle of the third special session, where only the governor decides which items to discuss. Teacher pay has yet to make the agenda. But last week, Abbott gave lawmakers an ultimatum. The governor said he will include teacher pay in the third special session, but only if lawmakers pass a bill allowing the public’s tax dollars to go toward private schools, also known as vouchers.
Historically, rural Republicans and Democrats have voted against the state funding private schools, which is why efforts to pass similar laws failed in years past. But Abbott has been vocal about his determination to pass the voucher bill this session.
“There is an easy way to get it done, and there’s a hard way,” Abbott said in a tele-town hall last month. “We will take it either way — in a special session or after an election.”
So, with state funding still unresolved, Sharyland ISD administration proposed three options to provide one-time stipends to district employees.
“When we get to this point, we have to be very specific in what we have, what our fund balance is, how much money we have, and still monitor the legislature,” Superintendent Dr. Maria Vidaurri said at the Oct. 13 special board meeting. “But we are now ready, we have been working on it, we have not stopped looking at what we could do for teachers and staff at this point.”
Option one would cost the district $1.98 million. Each of the 1,251 staff members would receive a $1,500 stipend, not including 109 administrative employees and three part-time employees eligible for the Texas Retirement System. The administration staff would each get $1,000, and the TRS-eligible workers $750.
Option two totals $1,647,375. Staff would receive a $1,250 stipend, administration would receive $750 and the three part-time TRS-eligible would receive $625.
Option three would total $1,307,000. The staff would receive $1,000, administration $500 and the TRS-eligible employees $500.
CFO Ortega explained that the stipends are contingent on two fund balances — ESSER III and the general fund. Administration calculated a projected $1 million surplus in the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund — monies the federal government provided for pandemic relief. The surplus came from money saved through attrition. But the ESSER funds, as a whole, expire Sept. 30, 2024.
In the general fund, SISD generated more interest earned than the administration anticipated. As a result, they were able to carve out money for one-time stipends and still meet the operational needs of the district.
“Because we don’t know yet what the state is going to do as far as funding, it’s hard for us to plan this year, or even next year, not knowing what it is,” Ortega said. “And keeping in line with what the financial advisor is saying, ‘If you’re going to do something, make sure you can sustain it without any state funding right now.’ So our thought is, if we do a one-time retention, if we use those two fundings, the district is still well-within where we said we felt comfortable tapping into funds.”
However, the district and the board still hope state lawmakers supply additional financial assistance so SISD can provide more than a one-time stipend to employees.
“We all got phone calls, we all got texts, we all got everybody saying, ‘What about us,’ and it’s hard to tell them, ‘Hold on. Just give me a minute.’ And meanwhile, Jaime and his staff are hauling ass trying to figure it out,” trustee Julio Cerda said. “But I just want to make sure that everybody understands that we’re working on it. We never got [raises] off the table.”
Board Vice President Maritza Venecia echoed the same sentiment.
“This still doesn’t take salary off the table,” she said. “It just puts stipends on the table and allows salary for revisitation when we hear back from legislators.”
Cerda continued his thought.
“I’m sorry that it took this long,” he said, “but we had to work on it as best as possible.”
The trustees did not vote on a compensation plan at the special meeting. Board President Jose “Pepe” Garcia said the item will be on the agenda at the regular October meeting.