LHISD raises the bar on salaries

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

District leaders spent weeks plugging numbers into state formulas, looking at them from every angle, then plugging them in all over again as adjustments were made trying to make the promises of the Texas Legislature meet the realities of a district budget.

Each time, Superintendent Steve Snell and his staff looked for a way to boost salaries just a little bit more and squeeze out every penny of reward for Liberty Hill ISD’s teachers and staff.

The fruits of that labor were unveiled Tuesday when the administration proposed a 4.3-7.1 percent raise for all teachers in the district and a 3 percent increase for all other staff. The Board of Trustees unanimously supported the plan and thanked staff for finding a way to make it happen.

“It was basically our philosophy to give teachers as much as we could and still stay financially solvent,” Snell said. “Then we wanted to make sure our other staff was contributed to as well.”

The bottom line is teachers, librarians, counselors and nurses with up to five years experience will receive a $2,000 annual increase, and those from six to 17 years of experience will see their salaries go up $2,500. For teachers with 18 years, the bump is $2,800 and it reaches $3,200 for 19 years and $3,600 for 20.

The State mandated the distinct variation in increases at the six-year mark, and Snell said he wanted to make sure that distinction meant something for LHISD teachers.

“Part of the letter of the law is you have to differentiate pay,” Snell said. “Teachers with six or more years of experience have to receive a bigger raise than teachers with five years or less. Now, they didn’t give any rules attached to that so you see some districts might give everyone the same raise but add $100 or $200 to the experienced teachers. We wanted to do a little bit better than that. We wanted to make sure our veteran teachers realize a greater percentage and a real differentiation because I think that’s the spirit of the law.”

The new starting salary for first-year teachers in LHISD is $47,300 and a teacher with 25 or more years increases to $56,600.

Beyond the salary increase, the district is increasing its contribution to employee healthcare by $50 per month to cover any potential increases in premiums.

“We wanted to add a little bit to healthcare because the last thing you want is to give a staff member a raise and they see less money because healthcare went up,” Snell said.

Board members applauded the healthcare contribution with Trustees Clay Cole, Anthony Buck and Kathy Major recalling times where teachers lost money due to increases in premiums.

“I really appreciate all the work (staff) put into this,” Cole said. “I think this is a really good package.”

In addition to salary increases and additional benefits, the district plans to provide retention and recruitment stipends later in the year when everything is clear on the new funding formula from the state.

The raises may not match the early promises from state leaders when the legislative session began, but Snell said the district has done well with its new plan.

“The main point was to give staff everything we had to give them,” Snell said. “If you remember when the press came out (the State) was promising every teacher was going to get at least a $4,000 pay raise. Well, very few districts have been able to realize that, but we’ve gotten really close and we tried to get as close as we could with everybody. We’re not quite there with everybody but when it’s all said and done everybody should be closer to that.”

Snell pointed out that the funding increases for districts across the state were not even, with some districts realizing a much greater increase than others.

“One of the great parts of House Bill 3 is they did give us more money specifically for teacher raises,” Snell said. “One of the problematic parts for us is different districts get different amounts of money, and when you add the return of recapture you have districts with millions of dollars they can assign to teacher raises. Regardless, it really helped us a lot because when we started looking at teacher raises before House Bill 3, I think we were looking at around a 2 percent raise. The fact they did give us more money we are able to give quite a bit more than that.”

The last two years LHISD has given teachers an approximately 2 percent raise.

The raises this year will cost the district $1.1 million, with the added benefits costing $300,000 and projected stipends later on at $337,500. The district will have a payroll increase overall of $3.6 million based on current budget projections.

“This is for new approved positions, vacancies and salary and benefit increases,” said LHISD Chief Financial Officer Jennifer Hanna.

The tax rate will actually be lowered from the current cap of $1.04 per $100 valuation to $0.97 per $100 as mandated by the Legislature in the Spring. The lower rate is to provide some local relief, though local revenues are projected to increase due to higher property values.

The district is expected to hold a public hearing on and finalize its 2020 fiscal year budget at its Aug. 19 meeting.

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