August 24, 2022 517 PM
PRESIDIO — At last week’s school board meeting, Presidio ISD approved a 4% pay raise for employee salaries and a $2,500 retention bonus for all employees who stayed with the district for at least one year. The raises will take effect in September, and the bonuses will be distributed as $1,250 stipends each semester.
Last Wednesday’s meeting featured a lively public comment session, where teachers from across the district advocated for higher wages. According to the Texas Tribune, teachers at Presidio ISD make around $9,000 less per year than the state average. “I think we deserve [a] 5% [raise],” said teacher Areli Perez, who’d been concerned about rapidly rising inflation. “I know that’s difficult for the district, but it’s difficult for us, too.”
Perez thought that the district’s teacher retention rates were a red flag, and should urge the district to consider higher wages. Presidio ISD has been struggling with teacher retention since the difficult 2020-2021 pandemic school year. Perez reported that the district had a staff intake of 247 in 2019 and an intake of 230 in 2020. “Some positions in the district still haven’t been filled,” she said.
Special education teacher Senia Armendariz told the crowd that the situation didn’t improve as teachers gained experience — she’s been with the district for 25 years. Lifelong teachers typically retire after 30 years in the classroom. “My salary after 25 years is the starting salary for another — for example, a Border Patrol agent,” she said. Current postings for Border Patrol jobs in Presidio advertise a starting wage around $50,000.
Armendariz currently has two kids enrolled at Presidio ISD: one who just started high school and another in seventh grade. Her husband asked her to consider teaching at a different district in the region and commuting home on the weekends, but she wanted to be fully present for her daughters’ teenage milestones. “My salary is not where it needs to be, but this is my home. I’m going to stay here and retire from here,” she said.
Teacher pay at Presidio ISD is lower than comparable school districts in the region, according to the Texas Education Association. Average teacher pay at Alpine ISD is around $50,000; in Valentine, teachers take home an average of $59,000 a year. The only school district within 150 miles of Presidio where teachers made less money in 2021 was Marfa, where teachers earned an average of $48,000.
The sacrifices teachers make for the community’s children make them worthy of investment, Armendariz said. “Our day doesn’t stop at 4 [p.m.], it goes beyond that,” she said. “We’re here everyday for your kids. Teaching is the least-paid profession, but we picked it because we love teaching.” According to the Economic Policy Institute, teachers make about 20% less than their peers in other professions with the same level of education.
After a lengthy closed session, the school board reconvened and announced that they were offering a 4% raise this school year and a retention bonus of $2,500. Armendariz was happy that the district was offering any raise to its teachers, even if it wasn’t as high as she would have hoped. “We were trying to get that 5%, but it’s something,” she told the Presidio International.
Perez agreed. “I think we really needed to have that 5%, because in reality, that amount doesn’t make a difference on each paycheck,” she said. “Here in Presidio we only have one store we can go to for groceries, and now with [inflation] everything is more expensive. We don’t have anywhere else to go.”
Both teachers felt that the broader teacher retention issue was complex — their careers have been mostly local, starting with masters degrees at Sul Ross. “The [teachers] that usually stick around are from here, they were raised here,” Armendariz explained.
Getting out-of-towners to come to Presidio can be a challenge. “If you’re not used to this area, you’re like, ‘Oh my god, there’s nothing to do.’ You have to learn how to like it,” she said. “If the salary doesn’t get better, I don’t think people will give us a second look.”
Perez agreed. “We don’t have a hospital, we don’t have big stores, we don’t have good infrastructure,” she said. “People really struggle with that. I think the district and the school board should consider that in order to keep people working in the area.”
Despite the challenges she faces, both educators love what they do for a living.
“We love Presidio. Our kids are safe here, we have a nice community,” said Perez. “It’s a very good place to raise our children. We don’t stay because the district is offering the best of the best.”
Armendariz stressed that she feels what she does is a public service for a community that deserves top-quality instruction, whatever the disadvantages. “Our students are awesome, we don’t really have any troublemakers,” she said. “Our students, that’s what makes it all worthwhile.”