Friday Focus – 05-08-2020

Dear Team,

During a time like this, it can be difficult to see much beyond the important and difficult work in front of us. Yet every day, I look up and out and am struck by the way Round Rock ISD staff at all levels are stepping up and leading us to do what is best for the children under our care.

I had the honor on Tuesday of celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week by surprising our 2021 Secondary and Elementary Teachers of the Year with news of their selection as Districtwide winners. In both cases, friends and colleagues lined the streets, in vehicles and on the sidewalks, showering them with love and applause — from an appropriate social distance! In these times when we have needed to stay physically apart, it was a powerful reminder of the connection we all share.

We have so many incredible leaders on our campuses and in our classrooms across Round Rock ISD and I am proud to celebrate these two in particular: Secondary Teacher of the Year Kat Malone from Success High School and Elementary Teacher of the Year Jill Peyton from Forest North Elementary.

Kat and Jill are both stellar examples of leadership in Round Rock ISD. But this leadership does not happen by accident. It is the result of ongoing work to invest in yourselves and each other, to strengthen our team and, as a result, better serve our community.

For the last three years, we have worked in partnership with the Holdsworth Center, a non-profit organization that supports district and school leaders across Texas. Our priorities for this work have been set using your feedback from the annual District Talent Assessment survey as well as focus groups and internal data reviews.

On Monday morning you’ll receive an anonymous link from the Holdsworth Center to take the District Talent Assessment survey. I invite you to seize the opportunity to candidly share your experience with us and to inform our work and investments in you going forward. Your voice and your leadership matter, especially in times like these.

Speaking of leaders, I write this at nearly midnight, after wrapping up a five-hour meeting of the Board of Trustees where the bulk of the time was spent discussing compensation. District Administration recommended a 2 percent general pay increase for staff and, as I said in my remarks to the Board, I wish it could be more. It should be more. However, we are being conservative given the uncertain times and the potential economic outlook for the state and our nation in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our budget for next year also includes covering any increase in health benefits for employees. After hours of in-depth discussion, the Board decided to put off a decision until next week and have asked for some changes to the recommendation, though they still want to maintain at least a 2 percent general pay increase for teachers and staff.

Part of what may have fueled the discussion was some inaccurate information that circulated on social media on Thursday, claiming that the compensation package included lavish raises for top-level administrators. What the claims were based on were market adjustments in the compensation plan, identified by an independent study by the Texas Association of School Boards. TASB identified positions across all employee groups that were below — some far below — peer school districts. TASB’s recommendation was to begin to bring those positions — which include job titles such as bus drivers, educational assistants, custodial supervisors, technology specialists, teachers, librarians and also stipends for special education teachers — closer to market level. That would mean some employees would see an increase in salary in addition to the 2 percent to help keep our pay structure equitable.

Of the more than one thousand employees affected by this, there were a handful of positions in the categories of “instructional exempt” and “business exempt” (8 positions out of our 8,000 employees) that would see a bump of several thousand dollars, because they are currently woefully behind what the same position pays in other districts. Even with the bump, some of the positions would still be considerably below market, according to the TASB analysis. This is important for many reasons, but the two chief concerns for me as Superintendent are 1. Making sure our employees are compensated fairly, and 2. Retaining and recruiting top talent. If one of these positions is vacated because the person leaves for a job that pays more (something that is happening more and more frequently), we are unable to compete for the area’s best talent because our current pay range is so far below other districts.

Ultimately, the Board asked TASB to run some different models that would cap what the adjustment could be. I sympathize with their position and the difficult decision our Trustees must make. My goal — and my pledge to you — is to advocate for Round Rock ISD employees and to do my best to ensure all employee groups are paid competitively and remain a part of the Round Rock ISD family.

This is a complex issue, but if you’re interested, I encourage you to watch the full Board discussion. Last night’s meeting should be posted on the District website later today. You can find it under “Called Board Meetings.” If you ever have a question about something or see a post on social media that causes you concern, please reach out to me. Technology is a wonderful thing and has great power to connect, but it also provides a platform for those that seek to sow seeds of discontent and makes spreading suspicion and falsehoods frighteningly easy. As a public school district, we deal in facts and truth, and sometimes the whole story takes more to explain than can fit into a tweet. I hope I’ve earned your trust and, if not, I hope you give me that opportunity by bringing concerns to my attention. I’m here to serve you.

I want to close by once again thanking all of our teachers. I’m sure for you, like me, these two months have presented you with the greatest challenge of your career. Yet you have risen to the occasion with determination, compassion, selflessness and professionalism. I am so proud to be on your team. For so many students, you are their light. You are their hope. Our circumstances do not change that fact. Thank you for finding new ways to continue to encourage and inspire.

Keep the faith. Reach out and thank a teacher. Remember, our world will be better soon.

Thanks for reading. I’ll write again soon.

Respectfully,

Steve Flores, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools