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Raises weren’t enough to stave off the teacher shortage in San Antonio

San Antonio Alliance President Alejandra Lopez addresses the crowd with a row of union members holding signs and banners behind her with the downtown skyline in the background.
Camille Phillips
/
Texas Public Radio
San Antonio Alliance President Alejandra Lopez addresses union members and supporters at a rally before the San Antonio ISD board meeting May 16, 2022.

This is the second in a three-part series on San Antonio’s teacher shortage. Read part one and part three.

This past May, the union that represents teachers and support personnel at the San Antonio Independent School District held a rally outside the district’s central office.

“If you support pay raises for workers let me hear you,” shouted the union president, Alejandra Lopez, to cheers.

After a tough year juggling a substitute shortage and hundreds of vacancies in every department, they had a message for the school board.

“We're here to show the board that they must demonstrate their commitment to workers in the district by prioritizing a pay raise to attract and retain the high-quality staff that our students deserve,” Lopez said.

School boards across San Antonio heeded that call, approving raises ranging from $1,000 to $3,600 for teachers.

But when the new school year started in August, San Antonio districts had significantly more vacancies than the year: at least 772 according to a TPR analysis of data from 12 San Antonio school districts. That’s nearly double the number of vacancies the districts had the year before.

With a sharp increase in the local teacher shortage, it’s hard to say if the raises had any impact. But some of the districts with the biggest raises and highest salaries did manage to avoid seeing an increase in the number of vacancies.

Judson ISD, which increased starting pay for teachers by $3,650, managed to keep its vacancy rate about the same as it was the year before: 2.9%.

But the district with the most dramatic change in vacancy rates was Edgewood ISD on San Antonio’s West Side.

Last year the district had a 12% vacancy rate. This year Edgewood had none.

Edgewood officials give the credit for their success to the two raises approved by their board over the summer.

“That made a big difference because the first increase that was approved was prior to the penalty free resignation date,” said Mary Cantu, Edgewood’s director of human resources.

Cantu said the first raise helped Edgewood keep more of their teachers, and the second raise helped them recruit the rest. While most districts in San Antonio saw a big spike in teacher resignations over the summer, Edgewood’s turnover rate stayed about the same.

“We were very aggressive with our recruiting, and it was a big help, because we did see an increase in attendance of teacher candidates at our last two job fairs.”

The second raise approved in July brought them to $58,000 for a first-year teacher — the second highest salary in Bexar County. The board also approved a $3,000 signing bonus.

Cantu said Edgewood also put out a targeted social media campaign and distributed flyers to universities and alternative certification programs to make sure newly certified teachers knew about the raises and incentives.

And it worked — they hired their last five teachers at a job fair they hosted the Saturday before the first day of school.

202822_CMP_Edgewood Bilingual Teacher Janie Delgado
Camille Phillips
/
Texas Public Radio
Edgewood ISD Bilingual teacher Janie Delgado leads a small group of her students in a vocabulary lesson. This is Delgado's first year teaching, but she worked as a paraprofessional for the school for 27 years.

“It was amazing. It was just an amazing day,” Cantu said.

One of the reasons for Edgewood’s success — besides the raises — might be that the district knows how to recruit. Like a lot of high-poverty districts, they had high turnover even before the pandemic.

They already have a lot of initiatives in place to keep the teacher pipeline flowing, like a “grow your own” program.

In a fifth-grade bilingual classroom on San Antonio’s West Side this fall, first year teacher Janie Delgado sat in a circle with a small group of her students and went over vocabulary words.

This is Delgado’s first official year of teaching, but she’s no stranger to the classroom. She’s worked as a paraprofessional at this same Edgewood elementary school for 27 years. She already knows her students because she filled in as their kindergarten teacher until the district was able to hire a certified teacher five years ago.

“So, we have a chemistry, and I have a bond with them,” said Delgado. “I have a bond with the families, because they've known me for so long too.”

It’s hard to imagine a first-year teacher with more classroom experience than her. The problem is, most teachers with alternative certification have far less experience than she does — which makes them far more likely to quit after a year or two. And to truly solve the teacher shortage, districts need to figure out how to keep more of their teachers, not just recruit new ones.

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Camille Phillips can be reached at Camille@TPR.org and on Twitter at @cmpcamille. TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.