Proposed bond could increase teacher pay at Huntsville ISD

Matthew Lahey | Huntsville ISDA Huntsville ISD teacher lectures her class earlier this year. District trustees approved the academic calendar on Thursday, with school starting Aug. 12. 

The Huntsville Independent School District is asking voters to increase their property taxes and approve a $127 million in two bond measures that would pay for campus renovation and construction. However, school officials say it will also provide something that members of the community have been asking for — additional pay for educators.

Huntsville ISD educators are currently hired at a minimum salary of $44,600 per year, which despite three years of pay bumps, remain below comparable districts in the region. However, school superintendent Dr. Scott Sheppard says that the district is still competitive, especially when it comes to retaining experienced teachers.

“We’ve made great gains over the past three years, and when you compare us to most of our neighbors, we are already competitive,” he noted. “We also know that money is just part of the equation.”

The superintendent noted that one of his key focuses since coming to Huntsville has been to change the climate and culture of the district, which has led to less staff turnover.

“No doubt, the more competitive you can be with your salary package then the easier it is to recruit and retain quality educators,” Sheppard added. “We aren’t trying to compete with the biggest districts in Texas, we just want to ensure that we are competitive in our own marketplace.”

Starting teacher salary at Huntsville ISD remains between $3,000 to $7,000 below neighboring districts of similar size, with Willis ISD offering a starting wage of $52,000 per year, while Bryan ISD educators start at $46,000.

They remain competitive with many districts at the 20-year experience mark, but the scales are still $3,000 to $10,000 behind districts in nearby Montgomery County.

HOW IT WORKS

School districts in Texas rely on two separate funds to pay for education. A maintenance and operations fund pays for everything from simple repairs to staff salaries, while an interest and sinking fund is used to pay off debt. The operations fund receives property taxes, state funding and a small amount of federal funding, while the debt is funded from local taxes.

Huntsville ISD hasn’t passed a bond since 1998 and has only two general obligation bonds that will mature in 2027 and 2029. Those bonds are funded through a 7.5 cents per $100 home valuation, which currently ranks as one of the lowest interest and sinking rates in Texas.

“There is some benefit to having almost no debt. But with aging facilities and an aging bus fleet, we are forced to spend millions of dollars out of maintenance and operations. If we had an appropriate amount of debt to make those improvements, then those millions of dollars could go back into our operating fund for salaries and educational services,” Sheppard said.

Most districts, especially those with an appropriate amount of bond debt, spend over 85% of their maintenance and operations dollars on people — coming in the form of salaries and benefits for employees. Huntsville ISD is only able to utilize approximately 70%.

“If you can free up that money in operations by bringing on debt, like most districts do, then we would have more money and could be competitive,” the superintendent added.

Comments from Huntsville ISD Superintendent Dr. Scott Sheppard in this story was made during an exclusive interview last month. See more on the Huntsville ISD bond at itemonline.com/bond

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