• August 17, 2019

ECISD raises help, but still lots of openings - Odessa American: ECISD

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ECISD raises help, but still lots of openings

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Posted: Sunday, July 21, 2019 3:00 am

Starting the upcoming school year with about 389 teacher openings, Ector County Independent School District can point to higher teacher salaries and a more equitable salary structure.

The new starting teacher salary will increase to $52,000 — up from $50,000 — and teachers with more years of experience will receive larger increases ranging from $2,500 to $3,500. All other employees not on the teacher salary schedule will receive a 4 percent increase of midpoint of their salary range.

Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Gregory Nelson said if fully staffed the district would be at more than 4,000 employees. In a recent interview, Nelson said there were about 3,950 employees.

The cost of the increases was just over $10 million, Nelson said.

The hike combines the Texas Association of School Boards salary study adjustment and the requirements in House Bill 3, passed by the Texas Legislature this past session.

“We were always intending to use the TASB study to decompress and to provide equity where appropriate and to recommend a general pay increase, so that was the original purpose of the TASB study irrespective of the House Bill 3 passage,” Nelson said.

“The House Bill 3 passage changed the dynamic because it provided additional funds and required a certain percentage of those funds be used for teachers, so the dynamic got more fruitful for increases because of the House Bill 3 passage,” he added.

Javier Ruiz, president of the local chapter of the Texas State Teachers Association, said his membership appreciates the raises. In the local organization, there are a little more than 700 members that include anyone who works in any part of education — teachers, custodians, cafeteria workers, bus drivers and even some administrators.

“I think the raises for the teachers are probably better received and appreciated as we haven’t had raises since before the TRE (tax ratification election). I think most teachers will probably appreciate that. It’s a positive step in the right direction,” Ruiz said.

It had been about three years since raises were awarded, he said.

“However, I do feel that more should be done for hourly employees. Many of those they work probably two jobs and sometimes three jobs just to make ends meet because the wages are just not a livable wage. We’re trying to do more for them, trying to help them raise their standard of living as well,” Ruiz said.

He added that hourly employees did get raises and anytime the district gives out increases, it’s appreciated. But the hourly employees do the jobs many others don’t want and they are tough jobs that deserve a living wage.

The goal, Nelson said, is to be able to offer an increase for faculty and staff year to year.

“Sometimes those increases are small and sometimes those increases are greater than the cost of living, but that is determined by the market analysis,” he said. “So, A, how much do we need to raise salaries to be competitive? How much do we need to consider raising salaries to address any cost of living increases that people are experiencing, so that they’re as good or better than they were the year before,” Nelson said.

The administrative pay grades that changed were the director of literacy and the Education Foundation director.

The high school assistant principals went up a pay grade to separate them from middle school principals. Senior leadership — the executive directors of leadership for elementary and secondary went up a pay grade.

Those were new positions with added responsibilities. Nelson said they used to be called executive director of secondary and elementary education.

“Now there is more emphasis placed on their not only their supervision of the principals and operation, but also accountability and teaching and instruction so their role has been expanded to be that principal’s resource; that principals’ supervisor. In order for them not to supervise people that make less than people they supervise, we had to make some adjustments to their pay grade,” Nelson said.

Those executive directors are now responsible for operations, teaching, learning, safety and anything related to what happens on each of those campuses. There are three executive directors of elementary education and two for secondary.

There was no pay grade change for assistant superintendents, associate superintendents, deputy superintendents, or chiefs.

“You look at salary increases, it’s not a right but you look at it as a necessity to keep the business viable and accomplishing our goals, especially where it relates to student achievement, retention and recruitment,” Nelson said.

Something new is a salary verification form that will be sent out with the general pay increases and any adjustments, whether it’s a teacher equity adjustment or an adjustment to take care of some of the compression.

“Once that is determined, our information systems department is developing a correspondence with every employee it will go through the ESS system — Employee Self Service — where employees will get an email saying basically you have a notification from the district,” Nelson siad.

The letter will include the salary the employee is making for this year and stipends and adjustments.

“… It may be the first time they know exactly how much they’re getting; B, it gives them the opportunity, if we listed something they shouldn’t be receiving, they can tell us, or if they know they should be receiving a stipend and they’re not they can tell us. So it’s kind of a corrective measure so we catch those things as early as possible,” Nelson said.

The increases take effect July 1 for year-round employees.

“It goes into effect when you return to duty for the ‘19-20 school year. For those of us who work year-round, that’s July 1.

With the increases, Nelson said he feels the district has a much more competitive compensation package.

“We’ve leveled that playing field. In some cases we’ve gone above the plane in terms of what we’re offering our teachers, especially the years five, six and up. We looked at our stipends. We wanted to make sure that we were compensating employees appropriately for their stipends when they do extra duties and things like that. We looked at our department chair stipends. We determined that they didn’t have quite enough days to do the work, so we added a few days there,” Nelson said.

“What we’ve done is basically we’ve looked at every position and said what does this person do and are we compensating them appropriately? When we determined that they’re not being compensated appropriately, we determine that we need to take action. Of course, we couldn’t take all that action one year but we have a plan to look at this every year so that each year we can continue to eliminate inequity, continue to compensate people more toward their market,” Nelson added.

To make sure things stay up to date, ECISD will contact with TASB to conduct salary maintenance studies.

“So it’s a revisit. This is what we did last year; this is where you were before we came and did the full study; this is where you were after we did the study, but now that we have your data and everyone else’s data from across the state we can look to see did you actually catch up, or did you fall further behind and so it gives you a fresh look. … We did a 4 percent general pay increase, but people who were ahead of us might have done 3, or 4 or 5. And so we have to determine that’s our target audience, how much do we have to do to remain competitive, or become the leader?” Nelson said.

Nelson said a maintenance study already has been requested for 2019-2020. The fully salary study was $40,000 and the maintenance will be about $9,000.

“… I just feel like it’s valuable because we could make hard decisions. When we’re talking about salaries, we don’t want to make hard decisions we want to make decisions based on data, based on the markets, based on inequity viewed across the entire spectrum,” Nelson said.

There are programs within ECISD and with Odessa College, University of Texas Permian Basin and Texas Tech University in place to get teachers into the pipeline, but they take time.

Region 18 Education Service Center also offers alternative certification.

Odessa College and UTPB recently announced the OC2UTPB Teaching in 3 program aimed at graduating prospective teachers in three years.

“… That’s a long-term solution, but we have to do that. We have to look at both sides — what are the short-term fixes and the long-term solutions,” Superintendent Scott Muri said.

Asked if the teacher shortage was going to mean large classes above second grade, Muri said the district is at the state maximum.

“Our opportunity is to think differently about our class sizes. While we don’t want to increase them, the reality is I don’t want kids in an empty classroom, or in an auditorium or a gymnasium. I want kids with a teacher. Whatever we have to do to make that happen is what we have to do,” Muri said.

He added that he doesn’t want a teacher with 100 students in a room either, so ECISD has to do what’s right and appropriate for the age of the students.

“… But every kid deserves a teacher every day and we’ve got to get to that place,” Muri said.

He acknowledged that it’s going to take more time than a school year to fill all the openings. He said the OC2UTPB Teaching in 3 program will be a big help.

“There are things happening, but it takes years to develop those people before they are ready. …,” he said.

Muri added that the tight job market is more than just a school district issue.

“I’ve talked to people in the community already. There are lots of ‘help wanted’ signs all over our community because there is a crisis when it comes to finding quality employees. We’re right in the mix. The ‘help wanted’ sign has been out for years and it’s bigger now than it used to be.

Looking at the salaries, an entity has to determine if it is competitive, whether salaries are hampering the entity from recruiting and retaining staff, or is to enabling it to recruit or retain at a higher rate.

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