Jan 31, 2022 - News

Teacher crisis grips Austin schools

Illustration of a chalkboard with a waving hand emoji drawn on it.
Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Teachers are leaving Austin public schools in droves.

Why it matters: The departures, mirrored around the country, have led to a crisis of getting instructors in front of students.

  • Even school administrators have taken turns filling in as substitute teachers.

Between the lines: For all the tensions around COVID and the politics of curricula — see critical race theory and filthy books — a major reason for exits is money — or lack thereof.

By the numbers: The starting salary for an AISD teacher is $51,150. For those who have taught 15 years, pay is $54,129.

  • Of note: Because of the school schedule, AISD calls the pay "187-day annual salary."
  • Yes, but: Austin ain't getting cheaper.

What they're saying: "A lot of colleagues are leaving just to get more lucrative jobs," veteran Anderson High School English teacher Victoria Gallen tells Axios. "If we look specifically at AISD, teachers are paid very, very little compared to the cost of living."

  • "That gulf is just going to continue to grow as housing prices go up in Central Texas. A lot of colleagues realize they will not be able to purchase homes or afford a mortgage if they do not leave teaching," she said.

By the numbers: Exactly 859 Austin teachers have resigned over the last roughly 10.5 months.

  • By comparison: A total of 604 resigned in the 12-month period just ahead of the pandemic.
  • Compounding matters: Most of the vacancies are at schools serving high concentrations of low-income students, and one-third are in special education.

The wider context: Frustration among teachers is often pointed toward the downtown school district administration, which teachers see as bloated and out-of-touch.

  • The district faces a $62 million budget deficit, and officials recently proposed cutting teacher planning time — effectively adding to the teachers' workload.

The other side: Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde says she has eliminated 60 central office positions to reduce spending by $4.8 million — and is looking to save millions of dollars more.

  • And she's committed to raising the district's minimum wage for custodians and food service staff from $13.50 an hour to $16 an hour.
  • "I cannot in good conscience continue to pay people so little," she said late last year.
  • "We can never pay our teachers what they deserve," she added in a recent letter to district staff, noting that she's proposed a $1,000 raise for each of the approximately 5,000 teachers in Austin ISD.
  • Aiming to give teachers stretched thin a break, AISD's board on Thursday voted to give them and most campus staff members two more paid days off — Feb. 11 and March 4 — and students will get two three-day weekends.

Zoom out: School districts and officials nationwide are begging parents to step in, loosening requirements for substitute teachers and, in one case, asking the National Guard for help as last-ditch efforts to stay open amid the latest COVID-19 surge.

  • Demand for substitute teachers has been breaking records in Central Texas schools.
  • The Pflugerville ISD board recently called out eight teachers for leaving their contracts mid-year and said members were examining ways to prevent further departures.
  • "It made it feel like we didn't care about the children," former Hendrickson High School teacher Amanda Gass told KXAN. "That's just not the case. We wouldn't have done this job for as many years as we did."
  • "I got to the point where I looked at finances in the Austin area and realized that it wasn't a sustainable job for me anymore," she said.

What's next: Austin school district officials will hash out budget proposals in coming months.

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