FORT WORTH -- School trustees won't vote on a new budget until next summer, but teachers aren't waiting to lobby for pay raises.
The United Educators Association released an annual salary comparison showing that Fort Worth schools rank 18th out of 31 school districts in the area for the amount paid to beginning teachers.
For more experienced teachers, Fort Worth dropped in rank at nearly every experience level from the previous year's survey, renewing concerns that officials must work to improve salaries to compete for top teachers.
The association compiled the data itself for its survey, which did not include the Dallas district.
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Steven Poole, executive director of the Fort Worth-based United Educators Association, told trustees last month that the group is requesting raises for fiscal 2013-14 to bring Fort Worth's pay closer to that of other Metroplex districts.
"We asked for them to make a permanent raise for next school year. We're doing it now because we have 71/2 months to find a way to pay for these," Poole said.
According to the group's data, Fort Worth pays beginning teachers $45,200 if they have a bachelor's degree and $46,200 if they have a master's degree. The Hurst-Euless-Bedford district offers the area's top starting teacher salaries -- $50,225 for a bachelor's and $52,430 for a master's. Fort Worth fares better by comparison for teachers with more experience, ranking 11th for those with five years, 10th at years 10 and 15, sixth at year 20 and eighth at year 25.
For teachers with 30 years' experience, Fort Worth schools ranked fourth, paying $64,214, behind Kennedale, H-E-B and Irving.
Fort Worth officials want to improve pay, but it is "way too early" to know whether that can happen, said Hank Johnson, deputy superintendent of finance, business and operations.
Other factors should be taken into account when comparing districts. For example, some get more state funding per student than Fort Worth and may have a higher student-to-teacher ratio.
"We're going to do everything we can to try to improve pay for our staff. We've still got a lot of work to do first," Johnson said. "They're just now starting to put bills on the table for the legislative session. Are they going to give us more money? All those things have to be answered first. We're a long ways from making a commitment to anything, but we're going to work real hard to try to be able to improve salary."
When Fort Worth officials formed the fiscal 2012-13 budget, trustees did not include a pay raise, although some trustees were vocal about their concern that Fort Worth was falling behind other districts. Trustees later agreed to give permanent employees a one-time bonus equal to 1 percent of their salary.
Trustee Juan Rangel, whose proposal for a 1 percent pay increase in 2012-13 failed, noted that the 80,000-student district is the largest on the association's chart. A comparison with other large Texas school districts may be more apt, he said.
"I have some arguments on how that's calculated," he said. "It gives you a misleading impression. While I understand UEA -- we should constantly work to try to increase teachers' salaries -- how can we work toward that if we get the same amount of [state] money since 2005?"
Trustee Ann Sutherland said: "Money is very tight, and we have struggled to minimize layoffs. But we cannot function satisfactorily without competitive salaries for our teaching staff."
Poole said that while high pay does not necessarily equate to the best instruction, it can be a factor when teachers consider where they want to work and whether they will jump ship.
"In an urban school district, we have inherent challenges, so we need to look at not only the compensation but the working conditions so that we can attract the highest-quality candidates and retain our high-quality employees," Poole said.
Poole said other factors are also important. "Do they feel supported in the jobs that they do? Are they given the tools and resources to do the job?"
Kennedale, with 3,150 students, topped the list in all categories except starting salaries, paying $50,656 for teachers with five years of experience and $54,986 for 15 years.
That's by design, spokeswoman Erin Hyden said. After learning that the district was behind others in the area, trustees used funds approved by voters in a 2008 tax ratification election to improve salaries.
Jessamy Brown, 817-390-7326