Every worker loves a pay raise. It helps cover the bills and recognizes effort on the job.But at a time when school districts are insisting they're hurting for state funds, are employee salary increases a sound foundation on which to build a budget?The Fort Worth school board on Tuesday approved budget priorities for 2013-14 that start with giving all employees what amounts to a 3 percent raise. The other goals are to leave the maintenance and operations tax rate as is and keep $70 million in the district's fund balance.They're all worth aiming for. But the question is, Should everything take a back seat to pay raises?Hank Johnson, deputy superintendent for business, said in a telephone interview that he believes the district can absorb pay raises and that they're a priority because Fort Worth pay is falling behind that of other districts.For 2012-13, employees are getting a one-time payment equal to 1 percent of base pay. At this point, the proposal for 2013-14 is to make that 1 percent a permanent raise and add 2 percent on top. The estimated cost is $9.7 million.Johnson told board members Tuesday night that the district expects $581 million in revenue for next year and more than $608 million in expenditures. That would leave a gap of almost $27.4 million, which would be taken from the fund balance, reducing it to $72 million.In essence, the pay raises would come from fund balance. That would be a gamble and only a short-term solution for improving competitiveness.After 2013-14, the district would need more state money or local revenue to keep paying the higher salaries. There's a lot riding on the Legislature -- either on its own or as the result of ongoing litigation -- to improve funding.Concern about Fort Worth teacher salaries isn't unfounded. But trustees must be careful not to increase pay at the expense of essential programs.According to the United Educators Association, Hurst-Euless-Bedford and Kennedale have the highest salaries among area districts for young and experienced teachers, starting at more than $50,000 and going as high as $69,600. (ueatexas.com/pdf/salary12-13west.pdf)Fort Worth's beginning salary for teachers with a bachelor's degree ($45,200) ranks 18th in the area. Pay for five years' experience ($48,481) is 11th; and 30 years' ($64,214) is fourth. The district's rankings are similar for teachers with master's degrees.Trustees should make sure they have their spending priorities straight before taking a final vote on a budget June 25.