Dallas ISD’s proposed $1.8B budget includes money to increase minimum wages, address COVID-19 slide


Dallas trustees are set to approve a $1.8 billion budget that tackles the COVID-19 learning slide for students, raises the district’s minimum wage and devotes millions to a discipline system overhaul.

But it does not include a major across-the-board raise for teachers who have lobbied that the boost was especially needed after a tiring and challenging year.

Crafting the budget, which will be adopted on June 24, was no easy feat as the amount of money Dallas schools have to work with next fall changed dramatically in recent months.

School leaders feared that they would have to dig into DISD’s savings to pay for the ambitious undertaking of helping students recover from the pandemic’s many disruptions.

“We had the Legislature. We had the feds,” Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said. “The feds were going to give us some money, and the Legislature said we’ll send you a notice on how later.”

This spring, news arrived from state officials that billions in various federal pandemic aid would soon be on its way to school districts across Texas. Dallas is set to receive up to $785 million and must spend much of it before September 2023.

The district plans to use the federal money in a number of ways, including a large-scale initiative that will bring 1,800 tutors into classrooms and paying for COVID-19 related expenses dating back to March 2020.

Kindergarten students work independently in Michelle Davis’ class at F.P. Caillet Elementary in Dallas on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. (Lynda M. González/The Dallas Morning News)

Dallas school leaders have until the end of July to complete their application with full details on how all of the funding will be spent. Districts can only access their money after state officials approve the application.

Pay increases

One of Dallas’ large teacher unions, the Alliance-AFT, demanded that the district provide significant pay raises for employees.

In May, the group asked for a 7% raise for teachers to compensate for wage stagnation and the cost–of-living inflation during the pandemic and a 5% raise for support staff with a $1,000 bonus.

“We give 212% effort to serve our students, and we should have affordable, quality health care, a ventilation system that brings in fresh air and time to take care of our mental and physical health,” Brenda Jackson, a teacher at J.P. Starks Math Science and Technology Vanguard, told the board during a May meeting where dozens of educators expressed their support for the Alliance’s proposal.

But the 7% raise didn’t make it into the final budget draft. The average teacher will receive an increase of 2.2% to 2.6%, district staff said Thursday.

Teachers receiving boosted pay from Teacher Excellence Initiative, or TEI, would receive increases between $1,250 and $2,000 depending on their effectiveness level. The total cost of this pay bump for all TEI-eligible employees amounts to $17.1 million.

The budget will move the district’s minimum wage from $12.12 to $13.50. The increase, if adopted as planned, will impact about 7,300 employees — including teacher aides, food service employees and custodians, according to district staff.

The move is in line with the federal government’s discussion to boost the national minimum wage to $15 by 2025. Dallas ISD is using that timeline as a guide for its own increases, Chief Financial Officer Dwayne Thompson has said. That wage increase will cost DISD about $19.5 million.

Trustee Maxie Johnson encouraged the district to consider an accelerated timeline on raising the minimum wage.

“This is something I’ve been asking for since I got on the board,” Johnson said. “Support staff … they’re the pillars of the school a lot of times.”

At least one trustee has been skeptical the district could afford the overall pay raises in future years.

“My big question is are we going to be able to continue to sustain this?” trustee Joyce Foreman asked in May.

The district can maintain the salary increases for the next four years at least by relying on revenue from a 2018 tax rate increase that voters approved, Thompson answered.

Student programs

DISD budgeted nearly $1.8 million in funding for career institutes that aim to give students more hands-on experiences in growing industries and $4.8 million for the district’s racial equity office.

Roughly $4 million will go to redesigning DISD’s discipline system. At Thursday’s meeting, trustees were supportive of a proposal to eliminate school suspensions as an option for low-level infractions, such as dress code violations or disrupting the classroom.

Instead, the proposal would give educators a new option to respond to misbehavior — Reset Centers. These centers would open at more than 50 campuses as a new place for students to go to work on behavior issues while maintaining academic progress through remote learning.

Dallas ISD trustees are expected to ban suspensions -- both in-school and out-of-school -- as a potential repercussion for most offenses.

The district plans to hire coordinators for each center and train them in restorative practices — which seek to empower students to resolve conflicts on their own — so they can replicate training for the rest of their campus staff.

The budget also includes about $2 million to better address social emotional learning and the mental health needs of students.

A lower tax rate

DISD’s property tax rate is slated to decrease as property values have risen.

The rate is expected to be set at $1.27 per $100 of assessed property value, a drop from $1.29.

Dallas ISD is also expected to owe more in recapture payments back to the state.

A large portion of funding for Texas public schools comes from local property tax revenue. The state operates a recapture system — commonly referred to as “Robin Hood” — that requires “property rich” districts with higher property values to submit payments back to the state that are then redistributed to “property poor” districts.

DISD is considered a “property rich” district. It will pay the state roughly $58.6 million in the 2020-21 school year, which is an increase of about $39.5 million from the previous year.

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The DMN Education Lab deepens the coverage and conversation about urgent education issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, The Meadows Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University and Todd A. Williams Family Foundation. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of the Education Lab’s journalism.



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