Some bus drivers, custodians and teaching assistants in Austin public schools are asking the school board to give classified employees a five percent pay increase next year. At a school board meeting on Monday, classified employees said as Austin becomes a more expensive place to live, it's getting more difficult to live on their current salaries.
Felipe Garza has been a teaching assistant for special education students for 13 years.
“My rent has gone from $475, to $600, to over $1,000 a month," Garza said. "My pay hasn’t kept up with that. I’ve had to make severe adjustments...to my budget. I’ve had to reduce the time I’m able to spend with my grandchildren.”
Between 2010 and 2012, classified employee salaries remained stagnant. In 2012, the district gave classified employees a one-time three percent increase on top of their actual salary. This year, that three percent increase was extended, as well as a onetime 1.5 percent pay supplement.
But with an estimated $31 million budget gap next year, it’s unclear where the district would get the money for a permanent five percent increase.
"If we were to do a five percent increase across the board, you're talking about additional expenses of about $25 million," says Austin CEO Nicole Conley. "We'd have to make some significant tradeoffs if we were to make that a priority."
While Austin consistently pays teachers smaller salaries than other Central Texas school districts, its salary rates for many classified employees are relatively comparable to other districts. A bus driver in Austin makes $14.62 an hour while a bus driver in Eanes ISD makes $16.56 an hour. Food service workers make a couple dollars more an hour than the average school district.
"We are more competitive at the level of the pay with our classified when you consider pay and range of benefits; we pay into social security, we make a substantial benefit with our health plan. When you look at total compensation package, it's fairly competitive," Conley says.
But Austin ISD library aides, bookkeepers and administrative assistants make five to ten dollars less than the average Central Texas school district.
The district says if it did increase salaries, it would probably mean hiring fewer employees. If the district were to include a five percent increase in the budget, the school board would need to approve it as a priority.