Fort Worth ISD is considering a $26 million pay raise package and $22 million in retention bonuses for the upcoming school year.

The school board is expected to consider approving the salary bump and bonuses at its June 28 meeting, when trustees also are set to review and vote on the proposed $819.5 million general fund budget for the 2022-23 academic year. The deadline for trustees to adopt a budget is July 1.

Budget public hearing

The Fort Worth ISD school board will hold a public hearing on the proposed 2022-23 school year budget. Here’s what you need to know to voice your concerns.

When: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 28

Where: Fort Worth ISD’s Teaching and Learning Center, 1050 Bridgewood Drive

Raises will be financed through the general fund, while federal stimulus dollars will fund the bonuses.

The proposed pay boost would contribute partly to the planned $40.3 million deficit in the next budget. The district plans to spend $819.5 million in the next school year. Revenues are projected to be $779.1 million. The deficit would be covered through the district’s $281.4 million fund balance. The remaining fund balance is projected to be $241 million.

District officials proposed a 4% pay increase for teachers. Their raises account for almost 59% of the total salary increase package. The bump would be on the base salary for a teacher. This means that, for example, teachers with 15 years of experience and a bachelor’s degree would see their salary grow to $68,096 from $65,477, a bump of $2,619.

Now a teacher with the same experience and a master’s degree would see a slightly higher bump because the district gives stipends to educators who have additional degrees or specialize in a certain area, such as special or bilingual education. 

Essentially, the 4% pay increase will be larger for teachers with more experience. However, the district proposed a slight increase to the starting salary for a teacher with no experience. The new proposed starting salary is $60,000, an increase of $2,000.

School board member Anne Darr described the compensation package as the district putting its money where its mouth is.

“Where we spend our money identifies where our priorities are. If student outcomes and improving student outcomes are our priorities, then putting that money into people who are working with students is critical,” Darr said.

The United Educators Association supports the proposed pay raise package and retention bonuses. The Fort Worth-based group brings together people who work in education. 

Steven Poole, the executive director of the United Educators Association, sees only positives from the proposal and urged trustees to approve the pay boost and bonuses. He expects the salary increases to keep Fort Worth ISD as a competitive district to lure teachers.

“But the raise, coupled with the retention bonus for employees, is definitely going to reward the existing employees,” Poole said.

For an urban, large district, Fort Worth ISD has a significant number of experienced teachers. Last school year, the district had 4,964 teachers. About 46% of those educators had greater than 11 years of teaching experience.

Amy Campbell is the human resources services director for the Texas Association of School Boards. She led a review of Fort Worth ISD’s compensation package. A district like Fort Worth ISD typically does not see such a high percentage of experienced teachers, she said. She called this a pat-on-the-back moment for the district.

“This looks much more like a suburban district. That is a good thing. That means you’re able to recruit and retain experienced teaching staff, and you’re not churning through teachers consistently and hiring a higher proportion of inexperienced teachers,” Campbell said.

However, that pattern does not continue when looking only at newly hired teachers. Last year, Fort Worth ISD hired 516 new teachers, and 60% of them had no experience in the classroom.

Inexperienced new teachers is a trend Campbell has seen across the state, regardless of a district’s size or location. This means districts have to spend additional dollars and time to develop these new educators into good, high quality teachers, she said. Factors outside of the control of district leadership are fueling this trend.

“There are more teachers leaving the profession. Fewer teachers entering the progression. And poaching from other districts has become more difficult,” Campbell said.

Campbell attributed Fort Worth ISD’s higher salaries as why it is keeping experienced teachers. Fort Worth ISD is above the average salary when compared to surrounding school districts, according to a TASB analysis. 

Raúl Peña, Fort Worth ISD’s chief talent officer, proposed retention bonuses as a way to thank full-time employees, including teachers, and substitutes for staying in education despite some challenges. 

Full-time employees would receive $2,000, while part-time workers would get $1,000. The bonuses would be paid two checks, one in December and the other in June.

If approved, the bonuses will be funded through the stimulus dollars Fort Worth ISD received from the federal government. In total, the district received $261,640,223 in federal funds.

The district plans to dip into that pool to the tune of $22 million, according to district officials.

Other school districts in North Texas and across the state are offering similar incentives for teachers who decide to stay. Some districts are offering a flat rate similar to Fort Worth ISD, while others are based on the number of years working in the district. The more years of experience, the higher the retention bonus.

Still, as trustees consider bonuses and increasing salaries, another issue continues to loom for Fort Worth ISD — one that it has attempted for the past year to triage: A shortage of teachers.

With a month and a half until the first day of school, Fort Worth ISD is still searching to fill 177 teaching positions, according to its job board.

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at jacob.sanchez@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Jacob Sanchez

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. His work has appeared in the Temple Daily Telegram, The Texas Tribune and the Texas Observer. He is a graduate of St. Edward’s University.