Salary raise, policy changes approved for Goose Creek

By Ken Mitchell

BAYTOWN – Most Goose Creek teachers will get a $1,500 raise next year after board members approved the salary increase at MondayÕs meeting. All district employees will get a 3.5 percent raise next year based on a midpoint system, similar to an average salary, designed by the Texas Association of School Boards. With adjustments for some employees for years of experience, the raise will cost the district $3.7 million.

“I do believe we can handle a 3.5 percent pay raise for all of our employees,Ó said Superintendent Barbara Sultis. ÒI think itÕs the right thing to do.Ó

Katie Bowman, director of accounting, told trustees that the raise is possible because the districtÕs tax base will increase by a little more than $3 million next year. District administrators previously suggested a 2.5 or 3percent raise but elevated it to 3.5 percent after about $2 million more in taxes was discovered.

Trustee Rosa Rodriguez, who has voiced a desire to give teachers higher raises at previous meetings, again asked if $1,500 was all the district could do.

ÒI guess we can consider printing money because we only have one source of funds, and that is the taxable value of our district,Ó said trustee Clarence Albus.

Bowman emphasized that the district is in Ògood shapeÓ financially because enrollment ncreases will keep Goose Creek from sending some of its money to other school districts and add about $4 million in state aid.
Last year the state considered Goose Creek a Chapter 41 district, or a district with more than $305,000 in taxable values per student. Bowman is confident that enrollment increases will change this status next year.

Not every teacher will get $1,500. Some who have worked 21-plus years will receive $200 to $600 more, and others could receive less or nothing at all. The midpoint system contains a range of salaries, and employees cannot Òmax out,Ó or receive a salary beyond the rangeÕs high point. For Goose Creek, the maximum base salary is $48,950.

Eighteen employees, including teachers, manual workers and administrators, fall in the category of no raise, and trustee Steve Fischer disliked this idea, saying that these employees Òstill have to meet the needs of their families like every other person in the district.Ó

Fischer suggested giving them 50 percent of the raise to Òsoften the blow,Ó especially since insurance costs will rise by 7 percent next year, and the state will take $500 in health care aid out of paychecks and place it in special accounts.

The board seemed responsive to the idea but did not take any action Monday, asking for the estimated cost of such a raise. Toby York, assistant superintendent of personnel, said it would likely be around $25,000 to $30,000.

Representatives from teachers groups said they were pleased with the raise, but Wilyne Laughlin, president of the Goose Creek Education Federation, said employees are not happy with the wide discrepancy between their raises and SultisÕ raise.

The board recently awarded Sultis a $10,000, or 5.9 percent, raise and will continue to give her this raise the following three years, bringing her salary to a total of $180,000 next year and $210,000 in four years.

Experienced employees who have reached the maximum salary in the pay scale – and who will not receive raises next year – will Òrightly feel offended and unappreciated,Ó Laughlin said.

ÒEducators I have talked to about the superintendentÕs raise have been deeply upset and even angry,Ó Laughlin said. ÒThis adds to severely low employee morale.Ó

In other business, trustees changed the wording of their Òzero toleranceÓ policy so that parents would see a difference between violence and self-defense.

The policy previously stated that violence would not be accepted Òunder any circumstances,Ó but the district struck those words after hearing requests from board members that self-defense not be punished like other violent acts.

Albus, however, was not satisfied with the new wording. He suggested adding Òa self-defense plea will be investigatedÓ to the zero tolerance concepts that will appear in the front of every student handbook, and the board agreed.

Cell phones will be allowed at Goose Creek schools next year after another handbook change. Previously, cell phones were only allowed in studentsÕ vehicles; now they can venture onto school buses and into classrooms as long as they are concealed and turned off during instructional hours.

Trustee Phelitria Barnes started clapping in response to the new policy while Fischer verbally applauded the way it addresses safety concerns for students that the board previously expressed. However, Fischer said, administrators and teachers need to enforce this policy.

ÒEven with our old language you hear of instances where students are just told to put phones away,Ó he said.

Students who break the rules will have their cell phones confiscated. The first time this happens students can pay $15 to get the phone back, but any subsequent violations require that the phone be confiscated for the remainder of the school year.

Even though the board will now allow cell phones at schools, no phones with camera or video devices will be allowed because of a Òvariety of possible legal issues,Ó Sultis said.