LOCKHART, Texas - School districts across the state are struggling to keep their teachers in the classroom and not walk away for other jobs.
Lockhart ISD may have found a solution to that problem. The district’s school board approved a new hiring and retention plan that goes beyond a bigger paycheck.
BBQ is what Lockhart is typically known for. The smell of smoked meat, which simmers around the historic town square, is a major attraction. But something new is being served up by the local school district.
"People are taking note. Our phones downstairs have been ringing all morning," said Lockhart ISD Communications director Christiana Courson.
The calls, which started Tuesday and continued Wednesday, are from administrators and teachers from other districts. They want to know more about Lockhart ISD’s new compensation plan. The package includes higher pay:
- Up to 8% for teachers
- 37% for clerical paraprofessionals
- 28% for auxiliary staff
- Administrative staff receive a 3% hike
"This is a historic vote," said Courson.
Health benefits are also changing. Insurance that was offered through the state retirement system is being replaced by a self-funded health insurance plan.
"In the next year we are seeing monthly savings for some employees of up to $1,500 a month," said Courson.
A new leadership program was created to help keep veteran teachers from leaving
"Our teachers can work in classrooms half of the day as ‘Master Teachers’ and then the other half of the day they are able to coach other teachers on campuses and earn an additional $10,000 on top of their salary for being a leader," said Courson.
If what Lockhart is doing is going to be a statewide game changer, it may need an assist from state lawmakers. The issue could come up during the upcoming legislative session.
"Teachers are looking at other industries that are offering more money to do less work. I mean, there are industries out there that are giving people $10,000 signing bonuses. So it's no surprise that teachers are leaving the professions to get more money to do something that involves less work. So we're getting to the point in Texas where we're going to have to go big or go home," said Education analyst Mark Wiggins.
Going big, according to Wiggins, will certainly have to include help for smaller districts.
"So if you're going to deal with the bottom, you have to do it through the legislative process. And the more that the state can invest in local public schools, the more pressure that takes off of local property taxes and local districts to try to make up that funding that they feel they need. So if we're going to do a big, bold play, then, yes, the Texas legislature is going to almost have to be involved," said Wiggins.
Looking a few miles south from the Capitol appears to be an example of how to serve up something big.
"Lockhart ISD has been successful in meeting these challenges because we are very comfortable with being uncomfortable, and finding new and creative ways to approach challenges. We encourage school districts and boards across Texas to really take an inventory on their resources and to think about the needs of the stakeholders they serve and figure out what are some creative ways we can solve this problem where we are not dependent on someone else to help, how can we work creatively to solve this problem together for our district," said Courson.
Lockhart ISD is already working on its next big step. FOX 7 was told a public-private partnership is being worked on to build affordable housing for its employees.
The "Lion Advantage" document highlights the benefits of working in Lockhart ISD.