By MICHAEL RODRIGUEZ
San Benito CISD officials identified overstaffing and a disparity in pay as chief among their concerns when considering the 2014-15 school district budget as well as proposed salary adjustments for employees.
SBCISD Board President Arnold Padilla, who since taking office in May has raised concerns that the school district may be overstaffed when considering the amount of students enrolled, spoke candidly Tuesday when asked about a special meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 28.
At the meeting, board members are expected to discuss and take possible action on the proposed budget, including “Market Value Salary Adjustments” recommendations made by the Texas Association of School Boards.
However, a TASB salary survey – referred to as the SBCISD Compensation Plan Update – raised eyebrows within the district, Padilla notwithstanding.
“TASB presented other districts’ numbers, and one thing that stood out clearly was – in comparing the 12 districts to us – we do have tremendously more staff members than other districts,” Padilla said.
The board president was specifically referring to SBCISD employing more than 1,700 people for a district that enrolls 10,780 students – this based on average daily attendance. Padilla argued that Los Fresnos CISD, where 10,545 students (ADA) are enrolled, employs more than 200 employees less than San Benito with 1,454.
“We need to have an answer to that,” Padilla said. “Why do we have such disparity in staffing between two districts that are the same type of educational facility with the same demographics? When you look at things like that, and they jump out at you, understand that there’s no doubt we want to pay our employees well. But we also want to do it in a manageable fashion.”
What Padilla found equally alarming was TASB’s findings regarding teacher pay.
The following are the “overarching issues” identified in TASB’s summary:
• Teacher pay is not competitive with peer districts, particularly Harlingen CISD who is a major competitor in the area;
• Perceived increasing disparity in pay between incumbents in comparable jobs and peer to peer;
• The district does not have a professional level HR position allocated – primarily to direct and manage the human resource function including employee relations, staffing, leave, contracts, legal compliance and wage administration;
• The district does not have formal pay guidelines to administer pay decisions fairly, consistently and equitably;
• Police officer pay is not competitive with peer districts on an annual salary basis. SBCISD police officers work a 187 duty schedule whereas the market average is 232 days. As of the report date (July 24, 2014), the district has adjusted the duty schedule for police officers to 226 days.
TASB also provided a teacher salary schedule comparison, which showed that SBCISD salaries for educators begin at $39,000 while the local market median is $43,000. This is a trend that’s also seen for five-, 10-, 15- and 20-year salaries ranging from $2,450 to $4,311 in median differences. The average salary for SBCISD teachers is $46,404 compared to the $48,959 reported for the local market median.
In addition, TASB reported that salaries for 15 benchmark administrator jobs are “2 percent below market value (98 percent), excluding Communications Officer and District Testing Coordinator.”
“Most of these positions are paid within 10 percent of market value, which is considered to be within a competitive market range,” TASB’s findings read. “Only two positions are paid more than 10 percent below market (Director of Transportation and Chief of Police). The Communications Officer works 20 days less than the market average. When adjusted for the difference in the duty schedule, the position is paid slightly more than 10 percent above market (111 percent).
Similar findings were reported for SBCISD principals.
“Pay is below market median values for all levels of principal and assistant principal positions except the middle school assistant principal job paid at market,” the TASB report states. “SBCISD elementary school principals work seven days less than the market average. When adjusted for the difference in the duty schedule, the position is paid at 93 percent of market. Of this group, the middle school principal job has the lowest relationship to the market median at 88 percent of market.”
Disparities were also found in professional positions.
“Salaries for 12 benchmark professional jobs are 4 percent below market value (96 percent), excluding Diagnostician, Energy Manager, LSSP, SLP and SLPA,” the report continued. “More than half of the positions are paid within 10 percent of market value. The Social Worker position is the least competitive of this group at 77 percent of market. Two positions, Occupational Therapist and LSSP, are paid more than 10 percent above the market.”
Such information was compiled, according to TASB, during the course of two days in January in which district administrators and human resources consultants provided “detailed information about their department‐specific issues related to compensation and classification.”
TASB made six recommendations priced into two models – Model 1’s total annual cost for implementation of all recommendations is $3,091,676; Model 2’s cost is $2,309,663.
Also recommended were changes to the district’s pay system management, which included: regularly adjusting salary ranges in response to market changes; providing pay increases based on a percentage of the range midpoint; paying at least the minimum rate of pay; not advancing pay beyond the maximum of the range; and following administrative procedures that address employee pay actions such as job classifications, promotions, reassignments and new hire salary placement.
In response to TASB’s findings, Padilla said, “I agree with the study that the school staffing needs to be adjusted in some form or another, and I understand that teachers are underpaid based on that study. I personally think that the district is overstaffed and I’ve brought that concern to the table in every workshop we’ve discussed it in. I’ve also done my own personal research on revenue data that’s available on the TEA site, and the issue is as long as we’re overstaffed we’re never going to be in a position in which we can pay our employees what they’re worth.”
Padilla added, “I know we’re all compassionate to the issue of wanting to pay our employees well, but – again – if your budget cannot sustain such salary increases there’s not much you can do. You have to find solutions to the problem, and the solution is minimizing staffing over a number of years. Of course we cannot do that immediately, but I have challenged our staff to put together a detailed reduction plan to make us more comparable to neighboring districts.”
Furthermore, Padilla said implementing all of TASB’s recommendations may also create a multi-million dollar deficit. “I feel uncomfortable approving a budget at that value,” he noted. “Let’s see if we can balance the budget before we consider the salary survey.”
Editor’s Note: For TASB’s survey, click here.