Dallas ISD is aimed to raise its minimum wage and boost teacher salaries as schools across Texas face staffing shortages.
On Thursday, trustees are expected to vote on a $1.9 billion budget that increases educator compensation, a move designed to keep the district competitive with others as they struggle to fill vacancies.
Texas was already grappling with not having enough staffers, and the pandemic exacerbated the problem, officials say. Low pay is often cited as a reason why more people don’t pursue teaching careers.
“We just need more teaching staff,” said Dwayne Thompson, Dallas’ chief business officer. “If you’re gonna get them, you have to be either at the top — or close to the top — of the market in your area.”
Still, many teacher groups are pushing for additional money to acknowledge the difficult circumstances ended throughout three school years disrupted by the pandemic — and amid rising inflation.
Alliance/AFT members are expected to show up at the June 23 meeting, rallying in red shirts around their message that “heroes deserve a living wage.”
“There’s so many employees in the district that would love to live in the area where they’re teaching or working, but because they don’t make enough money, they can’t,” said the group’s president, Rena Honea. “They can’t afford the housing in Dallas.”
The inflation rate in the Dallas-Fort Worth area has soared to 9.1%, according to US Labor Department figures.
Still, many are celebrating the proposal to raise DISD’s minimum wage to $15, which would impact about 7,200 employees, including aides, custodians and other hourly workers.
The district has steadily raised its hourly wage floor in recent years, modeling its timeline after discussions at the federal level that so far have failed to boost the national minimum wage to $15.
Initially, DISD officials weren’t expected to hit that benchmark for another school year, but leaders accelerated the timeline. The move is expected to cost Dallas ISD about $19 million.
New teachers in Dallas ISD would start at a minimum $60,000 salary under the pay scales proposed in the budget plan.
Dallas ISD compensates its teachers via a pay-for-performance system called the Teacher Excellence Initiative, or TEI, rather than a salary scale based on years of experience or college degrees. The system evaluates educators on classroom observations, student surveys, and student achievement that’s largely measured by test scores.
Under the proposed budget, teachers eligible for TEI scores would see their average base salary increase 5.6%. The actual amount would depend on where they fall on the scale.
The teachers union has repeatedly railed against the system, saying the district continually changes the standard educators must achieve to earn a pay increase.
“The target is always moving,” Honea said. “The increases are not going to be the same for everyone. It’s contingent on evaluation, again.”
Meanwhile, bus drivers and monitors would see their pay increase about 10% under the proposed budget.
North Texas districts — and the nation — have been plagued by driver shortages that have in some cases left children on their way to school stranded or late.
DISD employees will also be eligible for retention bonuses, paid out over three installations next school year.
Generally, the amount paid ranges from $2,500 to $3,500, depending on a teacher’s TEI ranking. The lowest-ranked educators — those rated unsatisfactory — will receive only $500.
Trustee Dustin Marshall, a big proponent of the pay-for-performance system, questioned why those teachers would receive any money.
“If someone is not good at teaching,” he said at a recent briefing, “don’t give them more money to stay.”
Alliance/AFT members pushed for every employee to receive the same bonus amount regardless of their ranking.
The roughly $52 million cost to provide the bonuses will be absorbed by the district’s federal pandemic aid allocation.
District officials are staring down a deadline to spend the massive infusion of federal coronavirus relief funds, which they’ve funneled toward work such as expanding tutoring, extending the school year and improving ventilation.
Federal leaders are discussing whether to allow districts additional time to spend the billions of dollars on certain projects.
In the meantime, Dallas is using the money to fund additional positions to tackle key learning areas.
“We’re adding positions for reading interventionists that we’ve had success with,” Thompson said. “We’re adding more mental health, more dyslexia — all the things that we’ve had success with.”
The DMN Education Lab deepens the coverage and conversation about urgent education issues critical to the future of North Texas.
The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, Garrett and Cecilia Boone, The Meadows Foundation, The Murrell Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University, Todd A. Williams Family Foundation and the University of Texas at Dallas. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of the Education Lab’s journalism.