Weslaco school board OKs pay raises in $180 million budget

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The Weslaco school board approved last month a balanced $180 million budget and a compensation plan that includes pay increases for employees.

The financial situation looks markedly improved from where it was in January, when the district faced an unexpected $15 million shortfall it said was caused by an enrollment overestimate.

Superintendent Richard Rivera said Friday that the district addressed that deficit largely by scrapping some planned expenses and eliminating positions through attrition. There’s also been across the board belt-tightening worked into the budget, like reductions in travel and overtime expenditures.

Staff reductions through attrition saved the district about $4.8 million, according to material presented to the board.

“Long story short, we were able to go ahead and close some positions that were not needed,” Rivera said.

Aside from some necessary hires, increases to the budget include insurance costs, four activity buses, four vans, campus marquees and a digital billboard.

According to Rivera, the next hurdle for the district will be converting pandemic ESSER-funded positions to locally funded positions over the next school year.

“I’m very comfortable that we’re going to be able to do that,” he said.

Rivera says he expects employee reduction to continue through attrition, along with a push for increased enrollment.

The brighter budget outlook put the district in a place to offer pay increases to employees.

The compensation plan approved includes graduated increases for teachers, librarians and nurses ranging from a $2,000 bump for employees with one to six years of experience and a $2,400 bump for employees with 20 or more years of experience.

Other categories of employees will receive 3% raises.

“We’re making an effort like everyone else,” Rivera said.

Rivera noted the district pays bus drivers competitively and said athletic stipends are among the highest in South Texas.

Stipends in the compensation plan will remain the same as last year, although Rivera said it’s possible for some employees to see additional stipends this year.

“So we’re studying stipends to see if anyone was left out of the original plan the board approved,” he said.

The district, which says it has the lowest tax rate in Region One, is continuing to lay the groundwork for a November bond push.

Trustees haven’t yet called the election, though they’ve discussed it for months. They reviewed two potential bond propositions in June, totaling $163,928,600. Those propositions would fund a variety of renovations and upgrades through the district, although not every project on the wishlist was included.

“So we’ve got a very low tax rate, but I’m still not comfortable going up too high, because it might not pass,” Rivera said. “So I want to keep it low and be able to sell the things that we need.”