The local teacher's union is asking Austin ISD to reinstate a 1.5 percent bonus for all district employees for the 2014-2015 school year. The district and the union are expected to meet on the matter Wednesday.
For the past two years, the district has provided a 3 percent pay increase for employees. This academic year, it approved a one-time, 1.5 percent increase on top of that. But the 1.5 percent salary adjustment is not included in the FY 2015 preliminary budget assumptions.
Now, Education Austin is asking the district to change that.
"Our district looks a little different than it did a month ago," Zarifis says referring to the departure of Superintendent Meria Carstarphen. "We believe this is an opportunity to find out if we're going to do things different."
Zarifis says the 1.5 percent increase would cost the district around $7.5 million.
"This is just one step in that process of maintaining where we're at and looking at opportunities to build on that," Zarifis says.
The request comes on the heels of a major victory for the teachers union. In February, the Austin School Board approved three-year contracts for all teachers and principals after the teachers union and the district came to an impasse during consultation. In a split vote, the board approved extending teacher contracts for next year.
Zarifis says he sees interim Superintendent Paul Cruz as a new day for the Austin school district.
"Even though people work within a system, it doesn't mean they don't have different ideas," Zarifis says. "And that's what we're trying to discover here. Does Dr. Cruz have more progressive, employee-friendly ideas compared to the previous administration?"
Austin ISD spokesman Alex Sanchez says the district welcomes any opportunity to talk about solutions.
"We would love to be able to pay more competitive salaries for all of our employee groups," Sanchez says. "But at the same time AISD is faced with challenging financial landscape and dwindling resources."
For the past few years, the school district has drawn from its reserves to balance the budget. As enrollment is expected to decline, district officials say it can't depend on its reserves in future years and must find more permanent revenue streams.