Teachers express mixed emotions toward unexpected raises

By Donna McCollum - bio | email

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Nacogdoches teacher Amy Counts was expecting a $500 annual pay increase allotted by the school district. However, just today she learned another $950 will be added to that thanks to federal stimulus funding. "I'm excited about that. I didn't even know. It's the first news I've heard about it," the obviously pleased teacher expressed.

The $2 billion was approved Friday by the U.S. Education Department. Gov. Rick Perry applied for it last month.

District administrators are happy for teachers, but say they sure could have used the federal money for other things. "We don't have the freedom to budget the money where we really need them," Linda Engle, Nacogdoches Independent School District chief financial officer said.    "We were hoping we would be able to decide how we want to use it, like pay electricity bills, like pay for fuel costs." Texas lawmakers wrote a state budget allocating most of it to school districts with the proviso that it go to a teacher pay raise. Some school districts had been reluctant to budget the money amid questions over whether the allocation would be approved.

More federal stimulus money may help Texas schools. The state will reapply for about $1.4 billion. That is slated to help replenish the permanent school fund, which has taken a hit since the recession started.

School districts receive revenue for students based on allocations set five years ago, according to Engle. She says the old formula doesn't allow for the higher cost of doing business.  "We need new dollars based on cost of living increases. Right now we do not receive any benefit from increased property values. If our property values go up, the state money goes down," Engle explained.

Districts are concerned it will be difficult maintaining the improved pay scale after two years when the federal money stops coming. Teachers can do the math too. " (It's a) Catch 22 mixed feeling for me, Nacogdoches teacher Chris Arceneaux commented. "What am I going to lose later to make up for $900 I am gaining for this year?"

"It's like fix the problem now,but sometimes that solution is gonna really mess up things down the road," Counts said.

The goal of the stimulus package is to return some of that money back into the economy. Teachers are grateful for the pay raise, but Arceneaux isn't sure he can help the economy.  "Probably be spending $900...it will be covering all the expenses that go up because minimum wage went up," said the math teacher.

Pay raises can be diminished by a lot of factors. It's an economic lesson that both teachers and their bosses are learning to deal with.

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