HOUSTON – A major development in the push for a new Houston Independent School District budget happened during a meeting Thursday.
HISD trustees approved a budget in a late night decision days after the initial rejection of a proposed budget.
The meeting started early Thursday night and went on for hours. At midnight – just moments before a looming deadline - HISD finally announced the board passed a budget for the next school year, opting to pay most workers more.
The big question for the 2019-2020 HISD school budget has been: Can the district pay its lowest-paid employees more? It’s a topic that has had people’s blood boiling.
Several district employees, including custodians, bus aides and others, rallied Thursday to protest the originally proposed 40-cent-per-hour wage increase.
During Thursday’s protest, the American Federation of Teachers released a statement that read in part:
“'Houston food service attendants, custodians, bus aides and other support workers are important parts of the fabric that makes public schools work well. Yet they earn poverty wages and are further disrespected by a laughable offer to raise their pay by a mere 40 cents an hour.”
The Houston Educational Support Personnel urged the board to raise the minimum wage from $12 to $15 an hour.
Instead, in a 5 to 1 decision, the board approved raising the district’s minimum wage by $2, making the wage $14 an hour.
One cafeteria worker who spoke at the meeting said the pay raises are a necessity.
"We have support personnel who have been here for 30-plus years and then some,” she said. “Where are our numbers? And for you to say that we would only get $.42? I don't understand that. We work hard. We are the foundation of the HISD. If you don’t have a foundation that building is going to crumble."
Daniel Santos, a 13-year veteran teacher of HISD, said he supports the minimum wage raise.
"Standing in solidarity with a lot of the custodians (and) the clerks--many who earn $12 an hour on my campus and other campuses," Santo said. "I have witnessed in the 13 years at my campus how committed they are to their job, to my students. Many of them, their children were my students also -- the cafeteria workers and some of the custodians. So we are here because it matters to us when they are devalued."
Trustees also proposed and adopted an amendment that included $17 million in department cuts. However, any staff reductions would be offset by utilizing fund balance.
The spending plan provides teachers, full-time counselors, nurses, librarians and educational professionals with raises ranging from 3.5% to 8% depending on years of service.
Bus driver salaries are also going up, now at a minimum of $18 an hour.
However, HISD employees who make more than $75,000 a year will not get a raise. Instead, they will get a one time bonus of $1000 and two extra vacation days.
The plan also mandates that district employees will see no increase in health insurance premiums.
It’s unclear how the district will pay for these last-minute changes.