AISD School Board Approves Historic Raises and a Clearer Path For Special Ed

Austin ISD Board President Arati Singh at the May 18 voting meeting (Photo by Screenshot via Austin ISD)

The big news at Austin ISD’s Thursday meeting was, of course, the largest pay raise ever given to the district’s teachers and staff.

On May 18, the board of trustees voted unanimously to finalize a 7 percent raise for teachers and certified employees including counselors and librarians. Other employees, like custodians and cafeteria workers, will receive an across-the-board $4 per hour pay increase, raising the district’s minimum wage to $20 an hour.

The raises came after the “We Know Our Worth” campaign waged for several months by Education Austin, AISD’s labor union. “I’ve been floating ever since we’ve been able to secure this agreement,” said Ken Zarifis, president of Education Austin. “It is a game changer. It is a life changer. It’s the most substantial pay raise in Central Texas history. And we believe that other districts will increase their pay and respect classified and hourly employees more because of it. You know – all boats rise.”

AISD Board president Arati Singh said the raise was absolutely necessary but warned that it may cause budget shortfalls in coming years. “The good thing is we had some reserves built up from previous years,” Singh said. “And so that’s part of what we’re using to give our staff the raise. But going forward, our community is going to have to have some difficult conversations possibly about belt-tightening to ensure that we are spending money where it’s going to make the most difference for our students’ academic achievement.”

In addition to raising district pay, the board continued its efforts to address the backlog in evaluations for special education services that caused the Texas Education Agency to install a group of managers to oversee the district in March. The board voted, again unanimously, to set specific expectations for how many evaluations should be conducted over the next year.

Singh said the evaluation backlog is decreasing since new trustees joined the board in November. “We own the problems – and we know there have been problems in special education in AISD,” Singh said. “We have not served students in the ways that they are entitled, so I don’t want to give any impression that we’re done. No, we’re just getting started on fixing this.” The historic pay package will also help in this area – it increased the stipend paid to bilingual and special education teachers to $7,000.

Singh said that she and Interim Superintendent Matias Segura recently took this message to TEA commissioner Mike Morath, who will decide how long the board and TEA work together and under what conditions. “We really did appreciate meeting with the commissioner, and used this as an opportunity to share our plan and our progress,” Singh told the Chronicle. “We actually requested that we have a monitor, which is a lower level of intervention from TEA. They had proposed that we receive a conservator but we were like, ‘We understand why you would want to do that but let us share with you what we’re doing and why a monitor could be appropriate.’… Honestly, regardless of the outcome, I would say the meeting was a success. And we look forward to receiving his final decision.”

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