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Surge in state funding restores district staff
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Surge in state funding restores district staff
Conroe ISD is set to give its teachers their largest raise in five years after the state Legislature allocated $3.7 billion for public education funding this year. The additional money also means the district will hire more than 150 new teachers and staff at two new campuses. In addition, for the 2013-14 school year, Conroe ISD teachers will receive a 3.25 percent raise on the district’s average salary, or an increase of $1,680 to their annual pay.
The last time district teachers received a raise of that magnitude was for the 2008-09 school year, when they received a 3.5 percent increase, which amounted to a $1,710 raise.
“We want to be competitive with our teacher salaries,” Conroe ISD Superintendent Don Stockton said. “That doesn’t mean we have to be the top paying district. But our primary concern is that we look very good compared to those neighboring districts.”
Of five area school districts, Conroe ISD ranks third in highest average teacher salaries; Klein ISD, at $52,400, and Tomball ISD, at $52,137, both pay their teachers higher than Conroe ISD on average. However, Stockton believes that Conroe ISD being located in Montgomery County and most of its staff living there, as opposed to Harris County where Klein and Tomball ISDs are, provides an advantage.
“We are really blessed to live in Montgomery County,” he said. “The job growth is incredible, and the quality of life is good.”
For the 2011-13 biennium the Texas Legislature cut more than $5 billion from public education funding. Biennial funding allocations by the Legislature enable Texas school districts to set budgets for up to two years.
For the 2011 school year, many area school districts were forced to tighten their financial belts, and in some cases impose widespread teacher layoffs. Magnolia ISD in 2011 laid off 55 teachers who were on a probationary contract. The district later offered positions back to those teachers.
Stockton said Conroe ISD was in good enough shape financially to avoid teacher layoffs, but the district did experience cuts.
Deputy Superintendent Chris Hines said Conroe ISD reduced its expenditures by $3.8 million in 2011. He said that was accomplished by reducing spending in transportation, utilities and by not hiring replacements for the more than 200 staff positions that were vacated by retirements or resignations. Also, the district did not give teacher raises in 2011.
Stockton emphasized the importance of the state allocating funding to education.
“Two years ago, we were all challenged by the reductions,” he said. “But I’ll be honest, I think that whole process of reviewing everything we do from a financial stance was a healthy one in the sense that it made us really scrutinize what were doing. It made us become more efficient.”
Now in his 10th year as Conroe ISD superintendent, Stockton said it was a priority of his and the district’s school board to raise teacher salaries. He said when he began his tenure, the average salary for a district teacher was about $31,000.
“If you go back to 2005, 58 percent of our budget was going towards instruction,” he said. “Today, 62 percent of the budget goes to instruction. We have been able to shift money out of operations into instruction, which translates to more teachers and [higher] teacher salaries. We have been able to maximize our money and lower the tax rate.”
For the 2013-14 school year, Conroe ISD is planning a tax rate of $1.285 cents per $100 of property valuation, a 1/2-cent cut from last year’s rate of $1.29. If approved, it will mark the second consecutive year Conroe ISD has lowered its tax rate. According to the Houston Association of Realtors, the average home value in Montgomery County for 2013 is $305,691. Based on the new tax rate, the average homeowner will pay $3,927 for their school district tax, a savings of $15 over 2012.
Aided by the additions in funding provided by the state, the district plans to add 231 new positions for the 2013-14 school year, district spokeswoman Lisa Meeks said. That number includes 151 teachers, 41 paraprofessionals and 39 auxiliary employees.
Hines said some of the new employees will staff two new schools scheduled to open in time for the 2013-14 school year—Ann Snyder Elementary and Conroe High School Ninth Grade Campus.
Meeks said 13 new staff members and teachers will be hired for Snyder Elementary, while nine will be hired for the Conroe High School Ninth Grade Campus, with the rest of the staff being pulled from other schools.
The remaining staff hired this year is because of student growth, Meeks said, including new Career and Technology Education teachers at each of the district’s five high schools.
The Texas affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers represents more than 30 teacher union groups in Texas.
Rob D’Amico, spokesman for the Texas AFT, said Conroe ISD’s hiring of more teachers and giving current teachers raises is representative of what is happening across the state.
“There are a lot of districts in a lot better position to hire staff and reduce student-teacher ratios,” he said. “We’re seeing a little bit of a rebound in the economy; a lot of districts are in a better position. A lot of employees have gone four or five years without any raises.”
According to the Texas Education Agency’s Academic Excellence Indicator System, which tracks school and district standardized testing results, as well as demographics, Conroe ISD has a student-to-teacher ratio of 16.6-1.
The Conroe ISD board of trustees will vote on the 2013-14 budget during its Aug. 20 meeting. This year’s proposed budget includes revenues of $386 million, $43 million more than last year’s revenue. Meeks said the additional revenue comes from allocations to the district by the state though new legislative funding. Money also is given to the district from the state based on increases in enrollment.