BISD agrees upon raises; District also set to buy wifi hotspots

The Brownsville Independent School District made good Tuesday on a pledge to teachers and librarians by funding a full $2,000 raise for the coming school year.

By a 7-0 vote, the BISD Board of Trustees approved redirecting $1.1 million in the district’s 2020-2021 budget to fully fund the $2,000 raise.

The budget and hiring schedule that trustees approved in late June only funded raises of $1,680. The board but directed administration to find the additional funds if possible. Trustees approved an amendment Tuesday night redirecting the funds.

In turn, Superintendent Rene Gutierrez and the seven trustees expressed satisfaction that they were able to find the additional money to fully fund the raise, which amounts to about 3%. Classified and manual trades employees received 4% raises.

Board vice president Drue Brown said she had watched in dismay for years as the board approved picmeal, one-time raises, which over time resulted in BISD slipping from a position as one of the best-paid districts in the region to being behind other districts.

“I’m not in favor of voting for stipends. I want to vote for actual salary increases. We need to build our salaries back up and never let it happen again,” she said.

Other trustees expressed a similar sentiment, calling the increases that were approved for this year a start, but saying that much work remains to be done.

Trustee Prisci Roca-Tipton said at the beginning of the budget process she and her colleagues learned that BISD teachers had received raises totaling $4,618 since 2014. In a similar manner, the district’s bus drivers had not received a raise for years but in 2014 received a 36-cent increase to $9.36 per hour. Bus drivers make $13 per hour under the current budget and are emblematic of classified and manual trades workers, she said.

Hourly and classified employees were forgotten over a 10 year period, she said.

Under Gutierrez leadership, BISD this year began a salary adjustment process recommended by the Texas Association of School Boards that resulted in adjustments to pay grades and salaries for many employees. He said the aim is to achieve equity for all employees, and he offered to meet with any employee concerned about his or her pay to explain the changes.

Trustee Philip Cowen pointed out the increases will stay with employees in coming years rather than being a one-time increase.

In other business, trustees approved spending $10 million from the district’s fund balance for COVID-19 related expenses. Cowen, referring to the urge to draw from fund balance to pay for things like employee raises, Cowen said the coronavirus crisis is “one of the good reasons why you have a fund balance.”

A large part of the COVID expenses likely will be reimbursed by Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, and the Texas Education Agency. The fund balance allows BISD to do what is needed now, he said.

In an emergency meeting that preceeded the regular board meeting, trustees approved spending $3.47 million for broadband hot spots and learning devices. Approving the expenditure quickly allowed BISD to get in line early to be part of Operation Connectivity, a bulk purchase agreement through the Region Four Education Service Center in Dallas and the Dallas Independent School District

BISD will puchase 4,000 iPads and hotspots through the program to go with the 6,000 it already has, and 10,000 additional hot spots to go with the 9,000 hotspots and 11,000 Chromebooks now on hand so that when school opens Aug. 25 all students will be able to get online.

The board also passed a resolution to ask permission from TEA for an additional four weeks of 100 percent online instruction through Oct. 8. The board passed the resolution but Gutierrez cautioned that TEA could force BISD to open some campuses to students for instruction during the second four weeks to receive funding.

The more BISD can show that all students all students are online the better, Gutierrez said.