HISD budget plan includes raises for teachers, principals and staff; no tax rate increase

Salary increases that will help the Houston Independent School District hire and retain effective principals, teachers and district staff remain a top priority for administrators as they continue to develop a budget for the 2015-2016 school year.

Under the proposed budget, teachers would get a minimum salary increase of 2 percent, with beginning teacher salaries jumping up to $50,500 — almost $4,000 more than they earned just two years ago. Certified bilingual teachers would earn an additional $4,000 annual stipend, a significant increase over the current $1,250 stipend.

The district also is considering a plan that would increase the salaries of middle and high school principals, who currently make significantly less than their counterparts in surrounding districts. The increases would make the salaries more competitive.

At the middle school level, principals of specialty and K-8 schools would be brought up to $95,000, while principals of comprehensive schools would be brought up to $105,000 plus a $10,000 signing and retention bonus.

At the high school level, principals of specialty schools would be brought up to $115,000, principals of comprehensive schools would be brought up to $130,000, and principals of comprehensive high schools that have been deemed hard-to-fill would be brought up to $130,000 plus a $20,000 signing and retention bonus.

All hourly employees would earn a minimum of $10 per hour. Other district employees would receive a 1.5 percent salary increase.

“We want an effective teacher in every classroom and an effective principal on every campus,” HISD Superintendent Terry Grier said. “These proposed salary and stipend increases will help us recruit and retain the best of the best.”

The updated 2015-2016 proposed budget was presented this week during an HISD Board of Education workshop. The school board must formally approve the budget before it can go into effect for the 2015-2016 school year. Trustees are set to review the budget again on June 15, and then adopt the budget on June 18.

The district also has proposed to continue offering the ASPIRE teacher bonus program, which provides financial rewards to educators whose students are making the strongest academic gains. Under the proposal, the program would be re-tooled so that it focuses primarily on core subject teachers (math, science, English/Language Arts, and social studies) working in hard-to-staff schools and subject areas.

District officials originally thought they might have to temporarily discontinue the ASPIRE program amid concerns that HISD would lose significant state funds for the 2015-2016 school year because of rising property values. Generally, as property values in a district rise, the state provides less funding. Chapter 41 of the Texas Education Code allows the state to take money from property wealthy districts with revenue that exceeds a state-set level and distribute the funds to property poor districts — a process known as “recapture.” Though 80 percent of HISD students come from low-income families, the district is considered property-wealthy under the state’s current funding formula because of rising property values.

HISD fared better than expected during the legislative session thanks to the district’s legislative efforts. The funding the district received from the state, along with other variables, helped offset what could have been a significant loss in local revenue.

The legislature also raised the state’s homestead exemption from $15,000 to $25,000 through Senate Bill 1, which is subject to voter approval in November. In addition to the state’s exemption, HISD will continue offering the local homestead exemption. Through this local exemption, HISD homeowners take an additional 20 percent off the appraised value of their property, the highest homestead exemption allowed by the state.

Last year, the local homestead exemption saved HISD homeowners more than $134 million in property taxes. That is an additional annual savings of about $667 for the owner of a $278,637 home, which is the average home value in HISD.