Just months from a deadline to adopt a balanced budget and avoid a state takeover, the South San Antonio Independent School District board of trustees passed a 2% raise for teachers. The board also approved larger raises for bus drivers and child nutrition specialists, pushing its projected deficit to $6.2 million.

District officials presented the plan Wednesday, saying the raises were necessary to remain competitive with area districts and echoing arguments made by other districts that approved similar raises in recent weeks. Some of those districts, including Northside Independent School District, also adopted deficit budgets. 

Boerne ISD approved a more modest 1.5% raise for teachers and a 2.5% increase for paraprofessional and auxiliary employees this week.

The decision by South San ISD trustees could be more consequential due to a settlement the board entered into with the Texas Education Agency last September to end multiple investigations into board dysfunction.

As part of the settlement, the board agreed to be overseen by a conservator and to improve governance within a year — or risk being replaced by a state-appointed board of managers.

In November, Abe Saavedra, the conservator appointed as part of the deal, laid out specific exit criteria for the board and district, including the expectation that they adopt a balanced budget.

“I've… discussed this with [district CFO Tony] Kingman, and his response is that it can be done, but it won't be easy,” he said at the time.

Also as part of the deal, the board waived its right to appeal any decisions made by the TEA, including an appointment of a board of managers, cutting short a possible takeover process that often takes months or years due to legal battles.

Decisions regarding future TEA sanctions will be made in September, Saavedra told trustees on Wednesday.

“I encourage you to closely review everything that's presented and ask the questions you feel you need to ask so that you have a good grasp concerning the finances,” he said.

Saavedra and TEA officials did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Despite the ongoing financial hardship, the board and district have made substantial progress in the last year, slashing the deficit nearly in half before the raises were approved and virtually eliminating the dysfunction that led to the state sanctions.

Student outcomes, once a peripheral item on board meeting agendas, are now center stage, taking up about half the meeting on Wednesday. Trustee Abel Martinez, who regularly clashed with other board members last year, congratulated the district and pressed officials to raise academic goals since students were close to meeting them.

Saavedra also lauded the work on student outcomes, pointing to recent standardized test scores that outpaced the state and much of the region in terms of growth.

In order to pay for the raises, SSAISD dipped into its general fund and slashed stipends for math and science teachers from $6,000 to $4,000.

While the district is sacrificing for the raises, board members, including Board President Manuel Lopez, said that all employees deserve more.

“We're trying to keep this district open and alive with our heads above water,” Lopez said. “If we had more money, we would give you more money. We just don't have it.” 

This story has been updated to remove a reference to SAISD’s budget, which has not yet been finalized.

Isaac Windes is an award-winning reporter who has been covering education in Texas since 2019, starting at the Beaumont Enterprise and later at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. A graduate of the Walter Cronkite...