Teacher feedback helped influence McAllen ISD pay raise adjustment

McALLEN — School district trustees here voted to increase compensation across the board in a room filled with veteran teachers and concerned employees during a contentious board meeting last week.

Many local representatives from the Texas American Federation of Teachers, a union with local chapters, and trustees felt that the initial proposal presented by administration did not compensate experienced teachers enough.

School board members voted for a compensation plan for employees June 17 based on a “conservative” expectation on school revenue in accordance with models. However, additional funds were higher than what the district expected a few months ago, leading to a series of board meetings and workshops in August to discuss and approve additional compensation.

Trustees compromised on the adjusted and approved measures.

Teachers and librarians with one to five years of experience will receive an increase of $2,750. The rest of these staff members received additional money based on tiers of experience with increments of $750.

Those with six to 12 years will obtain a $3,500 increase, teachers and librarians with 13 to 19 years of experience will receive $4,250, and the most veteran of these employees with 20 years of experience and over will receive $5,000.

Vivian Tamez, a French teacher at Lamar Academy with over 20 years of experience, spoke in favor of valuing veteran teachers.

“I’m on the verge of retiring, this is not going to matter to me in the long (run), but you never know,” Tamez said. “It’s going to matter to my other colleagues. It’s not for me, it’s for them.”

Other district employees received between 4.5% and 5.5% above the midpoint of their pay grade. Counselors and nurses, non-administrative professionals and administrators received a 4.5% pay increase. Hourly or auxiliary employees received a 5.5% increase.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 3 in June, which reformed school finances, provided property tax relief and mandated pay raises for employees. And now, 30% of school revenue must go to paying employees, and 75% must go to teachers, nurses, counselors and librarians.

The remaining 25% will go toward non-administrative staff.

According to HB 3, there was no explicit clause to increase salaries for administrators. However, the bill did mandate dedicated funds for teachers and other employees, which became a point of argument for some trustees. HB 3 also addresses other elements such as pre-K and bilingual education in an over-300-page document.

The board had different ideas about compensating administrators.

Debbie Crane Aliseda suggested that the raise for administrators, which went from 2.5% to 4.5%, be distributed among veteran teachers.

The district pays new and veteran teachers along the same consistent line, she said, and offering more pay to long-standing teachers would help retain them.  Crane Aliseda showed scenarios for administrators to consider and review in previous workshops and board meetings, incorporating research from the Texas Education Agency (TEA).

Doing this would widen the slope between the two and will better compensate teachers with more experience, she said.

“They want the best teacher with their child, end of story,” Crane Aliseda said.

A starting teacher at McAllen ISD will make about $49,800, but a 20-year teacher would earn $61,970, according to Crane Aliseda. This difference of about $12,000 would be a step in widening the gap and ensure higher experienced staff are compensated, she said.

“I’m here to do my due diligence, listen to the community, and the community was loud and clear over social media and through emails that we received. They wanted us to pay the veteran teachers more, so that they would stay,” Crane Aliseda said.

Board President Marco Suarez had concerns about inclusion and wanted to be “cautious” in taking care of all groups, and urged the board not to “neglect” newer teachers. Among his concerns is keeping McAllen school district teacher salaries competitive with other districts and industries.

“My position from the very beginning was never to exclude any group, from the first year teacher to the 20-year teacher. Everybody got rewarded today … To have excluded administrators would have been detrimental to our district,” Suarez said after the meeting.

Suarez said he trusts the administration as the district’s achievements show competence and quality work. McAllen received an A rating in the state accountability system and earned a distinction in post-secondary readiness along with a top score in the Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas. These two state ratings from the Texas Education Agency measure accountability and fiscal responsibility.

For Suarez, this shows the district’s capability and trustworthiness in managing its resources.

Vice President Sam Saldivar Jr. echoed similar sentiments to “not leave anybody behind” during the meeting and motioned to keep administrative pay raises at 4.5%.

The final approved plan costs about $476,000, but the administration was able to find and use funds from within the district’s existing budget, said Cynthia Medrano-Richards, assistant superintendent for business operations. This did not cost additional money to the taxpayers or to the community, she added. The district also approved the budget amendment for the fiscal year , which started July 1 and ends June 30, 2020.

Crane Aliseda said she wanted to be more “bold” and go even further for veteran teachers, but both her and the board president agreed that compromise is necessary.

“I think good boards do that. Good boards compromise,” Suarez said.