AUSTIN, Texas - Leander ISD budgeted a little more than $5 million for pay raises this year but that money was tied to enrollment. With attendance down, because of the pandemic, the cash was locked down and raises canceled.
Thursday night, the school board worked around the budget restriction by reclassifying the item as COVID-19 personal protection equipment.
"An alternative proposal to assist employees and honor their work is to provide a PPE stipend,” explained Leander ISD CFO Elaine Cogburn.
The accounting maneuver was quickly approved. 5,400 full-time Leander ISD employees will now get a one time check for $800. About 60 part-time employees will get $400. "We were trying to listen to, on where we could actually help them the most,” said Board president Trish Bode.
The switch, Bode admits, is about boosting paychecks. But the board justified the stipend because teachers and staff have purchased their own protective gear; even though the district does provide PPEs
"This was about filling a need from the past,” said Bode.
There are no strings attached. No receipts have to be turned in. The money can be spent on anything, even Christmas presents and groceries, and not just PPEs.
“It would be unfair I think to go back and ask our teachers and our staff to recollect all the stuff they've already done, this is already things they put out of pocket. So yeah this is money they've already spent out, to re-supplement their finances,” said Bode.
Some of the re-allocated cash is also being used to hire a company to provide a reliable supply of substitute teachers.
"We are going to get closer to a 100% fill rate for our teachers and that’s vital when you are in a classroom, if you are not feeling well, or have a personal family emergency, you have to deal with, to know you have someone to help cover that class,” said Bode.
The board and Bode are not worried that the state could object to the budget switch. “I hope the state says good job in taking care of your teachers and staff … I hope the legislature goes, we see y’all struggling to be the very best, and very responsible and resourceful with funding, you are making it go farther, I hope they look at what we are doing,” said Bode.
The checks are expected to start going out next month.