Another school year, another dollar. As mineral values come and go and the Texas Legislature continues to fail at fixing school finance, more creative means are being implemented to fund public education and to pay the teachers and staff that run them. At Gonzales ISD, the end of the year seemed like a logical time to chat with Superintendent Dr. Kim Strozier regarding not only teacher pay, but that of the administration.
“Gonzales ISD has taken proactive steps over the years to ensure competitive salaries,” Strozier said. “Annual reviews of the compensation plan along with information from the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) on salaries provides important and helpful information during the process of planning compensation. Careful study and review of salary averages in surrounding regions provided foundational support leading to most current pay increases. Further review of comparative districts supported past pay increases as well.
“All research indicates Gonzales ISD provides comparable salaries relative to surrounding similar and same size districts. In fact, GISD compensation plan pays well above state and for years of experience over 15 averages above regional figures as well.”
GISD posts their current compensation schedule on their website, which is subject to fluctuation from year to year. For 2017-18, teachers entering the district with a Bachelors Degree can expect a salary of $40,097. A Masters Degree will earn you an extra $500 that year for a beginner. Veteran teachers see gradual increases. An educator with 10 years of experience gets paid $44,108 while a 20-year tenured teacher gets $52,925.
“GISD compensation plans are well above the state plan for minimum salary schedules,” Strozier said. “TASB also produces a report on compensation plans the most current of which reports median teacher salaries for comparable districts at $49,250 for 187 days calendar. The median teacher salary at Gonzales ISD is currently $49,260 when compared to 187 days. The current median salary is $48,734 based on the calendar year of 185 days for 2017-18.
“Benefits are also a factor to consider. GISD offers one of the highest contribution rates toward insurance premium in this area. GISD offers nearly the entire monthly insurance portion for each individual employee taking the available insurance option HD 1 and is $75 over the required contribution amount.
“Other benefits GISD also provides is a comprehensive benefits package to employees. GISD offers a choice of health insurance plans and dental care plans. Additionally, employees may choose life insurance, disability insurance and cafeteria plan payroll deductions. All employees contribute to the Texas Teacher’s Retirement System and are eligible for benefits under that plan. They may also contribute to a personal 403(b) retirement account.”
“Provision of additional funding from the state would certainly assist in districts having the ability to raise teacher salaries,” she said.
Strozier also commented about GISD administrators' pay.
“Administrative salaries are determined by review of experience levels and by studying the market for the position,” she said. “All positions are in line with comparable positions, roles and responsibilities.”
Per Strozier's current GISD contract that runs through 2020, she is guaranteed an annual salary of $166,000 plus a supplemental pay of $24,000, for a total of $190,000. This is with a district-wide student enrollment of 2,848. Comparable districts with similar enrollments like Robstown ISD — with an enrollment of 2,789 — pay $165,000 to their superintendent, and Sealy — with an enrollment of 2,832 — pays $152,000. Cuero pays their superintendent $125,000 with an enrollment of 2,047.
The district has for some time had to comply with the state's “recapture” public school funding scheme, where property wealthy districts like Gonzales are required to make payments back to the state. But if those property values suddenly drop, that can leave a district in a financial lurch.
“GISD has received preliminary information from the appraisal district that indicates a major downward shift in mineral values,” Strozier said. “Due to the fact that the state funded portion of a public school district's budget is calculated using local values a year behind the current year, GISD will experience a 'gap' year in increased state funding to offset the drop in mineral value revenue funding.
“Any decrease in revenue to a public school budget affects all spending. GISD will continue to work throughout the budget process to effectively maintain competitive salaries. It is important to continue to review, monitor and support salary increases to retain excellent teachers and to remain competitive in this most important field.
“With funding declines, public schools are researching and finding creative opportunities to compensate all personnel by taking 'out the box' action. For example, number of days as referenced earlier. Teachers are required to work 187 days per year. With the new legislative action to assign a number of minutes to a student’s instructional time and allow district the flexibility to assign instructional minutes and the implementation opportunity to write a District of Innovation plan, districts like ours have implemented less required workdays outside of instructional time for teachers thereby raising the daily rate. This option has worked for operational staff roles as well. Additionally, the district was able to give a retention incentive last year to all employees.
“The greatest assistance that the state can do to help with increasing teacher pay is to allocate additional dollars in their budget to fund increases. As you may be aware, this was an item that received attention during the most recent legislative session. It was not supported by Texas public school employees — teachers included — because it was being discussed as an 'unfunded mandate' — is when the state mandates we take a particular course of action, such as providing teacher raises, but does not provide additional funding by which to achieve those tasks.
“Over the past decade, the legislature has increased the burden on the local taxpayer by refusing to allocate additional funding for public schools and unfunded teacher raises, such as those discussed during the recent legislative session, would yet another action that would have to be financed locally.
“Teaching is one of the most important roles that exists and teachers deserve more always. Districts need additional funding to continue to remain competitive.”