There’s been a lot of talk about pay raises in Killeen lately.
Teachers in the Killeen Independent School District will receive a 2 percent raise after a Killeen ISD board vote on the issue on June 12. However, several district employees in the crowd said it wasn’t enough, demanding a 4 percent increase.
Last week, the Killeen council heard a report on vacancies in the city’s police department amid warnings that the city’s pay scale for civil service employees — police and fire personnel — is 7.5 percent below the market average for cities of comparable size and demographics.
In both cases, the employees have a choice: either accept the salary offered or look elsewhere for employment.
The recently passed KISD raise proposal is worth examining, from both sides.
KISD officials first tossed out the likelihood of a 2 percent raise just before the district’s $426 million bond issue to fund construction projects went before the voters on May 5.
After the bond passed, the board waffled on the raise, suggesting that the budget might not support the $5 million necessary to fund it.
Ultimately, though, the board followed through and passed a proposal by Superintendent John Craft that will give all district employees, including nearly 3,000 teachers — a 2 percent hike starting this fall, pending the board’s adoption of the plan as part of the fiscal year 2019 budget. The increase will result in a pay bump of about $1,000 annually.
Craft’s plan also includes a 1 percent pay grade range adjustment that increases starting teacher salary to $47,000.
Under the plan, the district will fund the pay increase by transferring money from the general fund for capital improvement projects, which would be reduced from 1.25 percent to 1 percent.
This would seem to be a reasonable solution for both the district and Killeen ISD teachers, whose average pay is $52,464 annually, according to the district’s human resources director, Steve Cook.
Cook further noted that teacher pay in Killeen ISD is higher than that in several nearby districts, including Copperas Cove, Georgetown and Belton.
It should be noted that KISD has increased pay significantly over the past six years. According to KISD figures, in the 2012-2013 school year, starting teacher pay was $41,000. That increased to $43,000 the following year and to $45,000 by 2015-2016. This fall it will be $47,000 — a $6,000 jump since 2012.
Likewise, the average pay for the district’s teachers rose from $47,570 to $52,464 during the same period — not including longevity pay amounts, pay for graduate degrees or pay for additional duties.
The question comes down to what teachers should expect to make versus what the district can afford to pay.
Outgoing board member Carlyle Walton argued for a 3 percent raise and ultimately voted against the smaller increase.
However, the extra percentage point would have netted teachers only an extra $500 a year, or about $10 a week — not a great boost for educators’ pocketbooks. However, the district would have felt the pinch to the tune of $2.5 million.
And a 4 percent hike, as advocated by the Killeen Educators Association, would have cost the district $10 million.
Another thing to remember is that a raise is not a one-time expense. The extra pay must be funded for subsequent budgets going forward — so the district will have to come up with an extra $5 million annually, even before additional increases are considered.
For now, teachers and other district staffers likely will have to be content with a 2 percent bump.
It may not be enough to keep some employees from moving on in a district that had a 3.2 percent turnover rate last year — though some of those departures reflected retirements and military-connected relocations. But for the time being, that’s the economic reality.
Likewise, the Killeen Police Department is dealing with the issue of turnover, with 17 patrol officers leaving the force since last August. All but one departure has been a resignation.
The department has brought seven new sworn officers online in that time, — a net loss of 10 officers — but the department still has 24 officer vacancies.
According to information from the city, the starting pay for a first-year Killeen police officer is $48,851 annually, and KPD officers receive automatic step increases in salary, based on length of service, as well as pay for certifications.
Killeen’s police pay compares favorably with similar-sized cities such as Abilene, Temple and Waco, according to salary.com. However, Killeen’s first-year salary is less than that offered by most larger cities in the state.
The city first addressed the issue of lagging civil service pay four years ago.
After a 3 percent raise in June 2014, probationary police officers in KPD earned $41,593, and a 10-year police officer’s salary was $55,453. The City Council subsequently agreed to another 8 percent raise for civil service employees, bumping these salaries up to $44,920 and $59,888, respectively — and costing the city about $2.4 million to fund the increases.
The increase brought Killeen close to other cities in the Texas Municipal League market study used for comparison, but the city still fell short of the pay being offered by Austin PD.
Still, Killeen shouldn’t be expected to compete with a city nearly 10 times its size, a larger tax base and a higher cost of living.
Further, pay isn’t always the reason for turnover. Of the 17 officers Killeen PD has lost in the last 10 months, only one listed pay as the reason for leaving.
Obviously, there are other factors at play. Police work can be demanding and stressful, so a significant turnover rate in a fast-growing city like Killeen is to be expected. But in conjunction with this difficult work, lagging pay and a hard cap on overtime pay can sometimes determine whether an officer stays or looks elsewhere.
The big question — both for the city and school district — is how much money it would take to keep departing employees, and how much their budgets can afford.
That’s a question that will usually bring differing answers, depending on which side of the paycheck the respondents fall.
KEA’s president claimed at the June 12 school board meeting that the district had accumulated $20 million in surplus revenue — an assertion that bewildered Killeen ISD officials.
Others assumed that KISD could afford a larger raise because voters had approved a $426 million bond issue for the district.
However, by law, those funds can only be used for construction and not salaries. Still, many employees assumed the bond funds would free up more money for payroll.
Similarly, Killeen officials face a tough decision. Do they potentially bust an already tenuous budget by significantly boosting salaries for police officers?
Ultimately, budget planners have to balance the overall needs of the city with the obligation to provide our public service employees with the resources they need to do their job effectively.
And what guarantee is there that a few more dollars will keep valuable employees from leaving?
That’s a question every employer must ask.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always have an easy answer.