School district to lower taxes, give raises

House Bill 3 shifts more school funding to state

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The passage of House Bill 3 by the Texas Legislature this year paved way for school finance reform and the impacts are being felt in the Sealy Independent School District.

At a budget hearing prior to last Wednesday’s meeting of the Sealy ISD Board of Trustees, Chief Financial Officer Lisa Svoboda informed the board that the legislation appears to be having its desired effect. The district will likely lower the property tax rate by 12 cents per $100 of valuation and will be able to give teachers and staff raises of between 2.5 and 4 % this coming year.

“Our taxpayers ought to be very, very excited with the $1.27 tax rate. That’s down 12 cents from the previous year,” Svoboda said.

The reduction is the result of the state paying a larger share to school districts.

After reviewing the budget with the board, Svoboda concluded that the district was in the black by about $613,000. Most of that disappeared less than an hour later as the board considered raises for teachers. Of that, the board committed $570,000 toward raises, leaving just $43,000 wiggle room in next year’s budget, which will be up for a public hearing and adoption on Aug. 21.

“In any year that your revenue increases, 30% of that increase in revenue must be spent on compensation,” Svoboda said during the hearing. “Of that 30%, 75% must be for teachers who have six or more years of experience. The remaining 25% can be spent on any other auxiliary staff including admin, bus driver, paras and anyone else that is an employee of the district.

“Our total revenue for fiscal year ’20 sits at about $23.6 million. That’s up about $300,000, so our total gain in revenue is about $329,000. Thirty percent of that is $98,000. Seventy-five percent of the $98,000 is $74,000 and 25 percent of the $98,000 is $24,000,” she said.

She credited the trustees with conservative budgeting and consistently giving raises over the past several years for keeping teacher salaries competitive with area districts and being able to afford raises again.

“We are the only district … close to our size that is giving these kinds of raises so you should be very proud of that,” she said.

Although the district is only raising salaries between 2.5 and 4 percent, she said that cannot be compared to what other districts are reporting.

“Those districts out there that are giving 10 and 12% raises, go back and ask what kind of raises they’ve had in the last five years and I can guarantee you it’s close to nothing,” Svoboda said.

Board President Ryan Reichardt said during the discussion in the regular meeting that the smaller raises given this year by Sealy don’t compare equally to the larger ones other districts are giving.

“We’ve been part of that discussion of making real raises, real percentage raises, because I’ve had comments from teachers in other districts about some of them got big lump sums and longevity pay and all these great things and yeah, they’re getting a great check next year but what they don’t understand is in their district, they don’t get that next year,” he said. “I’m much

more comfortable giving them real, credible increases that they’re going to see that cannot be taken away from them.”

Reichardt said Sealy has been giving 3.5 and 4% raises for the last few years without state money.

“We’ve been doing it all with local funds and making our budget work,” he said.

Reichardt added that the district should be doing a better job of marketing its compensation packages to potential hires.

“There are districts getting … a million dollars for raises this year, that’s income from state money, and the reason is because they haven’t paid their teachers and given raises, so of course they have big increases,” he said “But we’re getting $98,000, so for us to give real raises, that’s a half a million dollar decision. The $98,000 from the state is not a real shot in the arm for us. It’s still on us to take care of our people. No one else is going to look out for us and our teachers know that we’re fighting for them.”

“Know that if we could give more we would,” said Trustee Joe Mike Young.

The board voted to give the 54 returning teachers, librarians, nurses, and counselors with less than six years experience a 2.5% raise and the 148 with more than five years experience a 4% raise. All other employees will get a 3% raise. First-year teachers will start with a salary of $49,000, going up to $54,000 for teachers with 20 years.

In other action by the board, the trustees received a preliminary report on the STAAR and end of course (EOC) student assessments. Assistant Superintendent Chris Summers gave the board a brief overview of the preliminary results. In general, he said the district showed improvement over last year but still has a way to go.

“We’re moving past ‘approaches’ but that’s the low bar,” he said.

The state ranks performance on the test in four categories: Masters grade level, meets grade level, approaches grade level, and did not meet grade level. Most of the scores reviewed were those at the “approaches” level. At the “meets” level, the district showed significant improvement, but the number of test-takers at that level were well below 50% in most categories.

“We are doing great in eighth-grade math, in particular, and high school end of course exams, in general,” Superintendent Sheryl Moore said afterward. “Our biggest area of overall concern is in writing scores. They need a lot of work, but we have a plan to address it.”

In other news, the board voted to raise the price of school lunches by 10 cents, approved the hiring of an additional police officer to allow for coverage on every campus, and adopted the board’s goals for next year.

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