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Large San Antonio school districts approve raises despite deficits, say more state funding needed

SAISD Superintendent Jaime Aquino speaks ahead of a board presentation on compensation June 10, 2021
Camille Phillips
SAISD Superintendent Jaime Aquino speaks ahead of a board presentation on compensation June 10, 2024.

The deadline for teachers to retire or resign without penalty loomed this month, and San Antonio’s three largest school districts all approved modest raises or retention bonuses within the last two weeks.

At the end of May, trustees for the Northside Independent School District approved a one-time retention payment of $1,100 paid out in June to all full-time employees and a 2% raise for all employees for the 2024-2025 school year.

On June 10, San Antonio ISD trustees approved a 2% raise for all full-time employees next year, and North East ISD trustees approved a one-time retention payment of $917 for teachers to be paid out in November. Trustees of San Antonio's fifth largest school district, Southwest ISD, approved a 2% raise for full-time employees and a $1,000 one-time retention payment on June 12.

San Antonio's three largest districts acknowledged the additional expenditures come at a time when revenue is down and costs are up — all three expected to pass deficit budgets next year. But district leaders said the raises and bonuses are needed because the inflation that has driven up their costs is also making it harder for their employees to make ends meet.

“We understand the inflationary pressures,” Northside Superintendent John Craft said May 28. “All that being said, we understand and recognize the importance of taking care of our personnel even when we are looking to propose upwards of a $99 and maybe even $100 million deficit budget … in hopes that this upcoming legislative session which begins in January we see some relief.”

Northside is using the last of its federal COVID-19 recovery dollars to pay for its retention payment. Districts have until September to use those COVID dollars, known as ESSER.

Northside teacher Katie Curtis told trustees that the rising cost of living made it difficult for teachers to make ends meet on their current salaries.

“A pay raise would help teachers keep up with inflation and maintain a decent standard of living,” she said.

San Antonio ISD Chief Financial Officer Dottie Carreon told SAISD trustees June 10 that the 2% raise will increase the district’s deficit to $53 million, but that SAISD can offset the deficit this year using federal COVID money.

“We know that we need the help from the state, so we’re really hoping — I can’t say counting on — but hoping that we see an increase to our state funding in 2025,” Carreon said.

Adrian Reyna, the vice-president of the union that represents SAISD teachers and support staff, told SAISD leaders the raise is “a move that signals our mutual understanding of the importance of standing by our school workers, especially when the legislature doesn’t.”

After approving the largest single-year raise in 25 years last year, SAISD leaders said for months that they couldn’t afford another raise this year.

But Superintendent Jaime Aquino said Monday the landscape had changed.

“We’re struggling in ... in filling our vacancies,” he said. “There’s a tremendous educator shortage that we know, even though some people don’t want to say this, is directly linked to our salaries.”

Aquino said the 2% raise is a token of gratitude that will help SAISD stay competitive in Bexar County’s tight labor market. But, like Northside, SAISD also expected to make significant cuts next year if state funding isn’t increased in the next legislative session.

The raises boost starting teacher pay to $60,320 at Northside, $61,000 at Southwest, and $58,400 at SAISD for the 2024-2025 school year.

In a statement announcing their one-time retention payment, North East ISD officials said that “fiscal responsibility remains a top priority as we navigate another school year without significant new funding from the state legislature and the rise of inflation, which has greatly impacted our finances.”

NEISD expected to propose a roughly $38 million deficit.

Most funding for Texas public schools is set by the state legislature using a formula that reduces state funding when local property taxes rise. Because state lawmakers haven’t increased how much funding districts get per student since 2019, costs for schools have risen but revenue has not.

Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Education News Desk, including H-E-B Helping Here, Betty Stieren Kelso Foundation and Holly and Alston Beinhorn.

Camille Phillips can be reached at camille@tpr.org or on Instagram at camille.m.phillips. 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.