Austin ISD hourly workers won’t lose pay if school start date gets pushed back

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — More than 1,000 classified workers for the Austin Independent School District will not lose out on compensation if the Board of Trustees votes to push back the first day of school to Sept. 8.

Ken Zarifis, the president of Education Austin, wrote on Facebook that AISD will present an updated proposal to the Board so that all classified staff will receive their pay as scheduled.

On Thursday, the board will discuss delaying virtual instruction for all students by three weeks and tacking on an additional four weeks of mandatory online learning, as allowed by the Texas Education Agency.

Initially, this plan could have harm hourly employees responsible for transportation, security, teaching and food service, among others departments.

One of those workers is Emily Sharin, a teaching assistant at Patton Elementary School. She’s worked for AISD for more than six years. She spoke to KXAN before the updated proposal was announced and said the possibility of losing out on due-compensation upsets her.

“It just feels really disrespectful for our district to do that to us,” Sharin said. “It feels horrible. We all want to go back to work.”

A Facebook post from Education Austin, the union representing AISD teachers and staff sums it up: “Most of these workers are scheduled to report to work next week and won’t find out until Thursday night or Friday morning that they shouldn’t report and will lose 3 weeks of pay.”

The administration is planning for multiple calendar options for the Board of Trustees to consider at its Aug. 6 meeting. More information on how an updated calendar will affect district operations will be available once the Board makes a final determination.

Austin Independent School District

Zarifis encouraged staff to e-mail the trustees to share their concerns over this plan. The organization has also created a script for employees to follow to record their voice for Thursday’s meeting.

“We recognize that this is a catastrophic reality for families right now. In the middle of a pandemic, after two months of no employment for most of the employees, just to make ends meet and now almost another month? It’s unacceptable,” Zarifis said.

He said he was able to gather more than 1,000 emails from Education Austin members and community members within two days, asking for the change.

Zarifis says there is enough money in the district’s fund balance to pay these classified employees. He estimates approximately $3 million could be used to pay the workers. That’s savings, he said, from virtual learning in the spring and fall.

“We’ve got to make sure we take care of people the way they need to be treated. This shouldn’t even be a question,” Zarifis said.

Board President Geronimo Rodriguez said on Wednesday that he hopes it won’t come to that. He envisioned a future where workers are shuffled around to other open positions needing to be filled.

“There is plenty of work to do between now and September 8th. I think tomorrow there will be more discussion about that among my colleagues,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez wants the AISD community to know the effort to find balance in securing the rights of workers and the safety of students and staff is one the district and board is taking seriously.

“All of us are trying to make sure we are doing the best we can for our families and protecting ourselves,” Rodriguez said. “I have a wild prediction that tomorrow you will be hearing from all nine trustees who will be asking questions to make sure we know why we are doing this and how we are doing this to make sure our community is safe.”

The board will meet virtually on Thursday at 9 p.m. to discuss the calendar year and also a waiver to extend virtual learning for an additional four weeks. That would place the first day of in-person instruction in November. The Texas Education Agency would ultimately have to grant that waiver.

Reach KXAN’s Education Reporter Alex Caprariello by email at alexc@kxan.com or by phone at 512-703-5365, or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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