Natalia ISD issues annual retention stipend to employees prior to Christmas

Natalia ECC staff Jennifer Velasquez and Karen Bedford with Natalia School Board President Eric Smith.

By Anton Riecher
The Natalia ISD board took action last week to approve and distribute $109,000 in retention stipend checks to the district’s more than 200 employees, board president Eric Smith said.
“Every person from the janitor to the superintendent will get a $500 check,” Smith said.

However, the individual stipend was only half the amount issued by the district the previous two years. Smith attributed the reduced stipend to a drop in average daily attendance during the 2021-2022 school year.
Average daily attendance is calculated by finding the sum of attendance counts throughout the school year and dividing that by the number of days that schools are required to be open, according to the Texas Education Agency. Schools then earn $6,160 per student who meets the average daily attendance threshold.
“Due to a lot of flu related and COVID related sickness our attendance has not been as steady as we hoped this year,” Smith said. “Because of funding being down some and other related expenses we were only able to do $500.”

Natalia teacher Jasmine Vasquez and Andrew Besa, Jr. High teacher and coach.

Only a last-minute reevaluation prior to the December 5 board meeting determined that the district would be able to afford issuing a retention stipend at all this Christmas, Smith said.
School board members across the state have been busy approving one-time retention payments in hopes of retaining employees in a tight labor market and with ongoing staffing challenges posed by issues such as the pandemic.
“The main reason this is important is it is extremely hard to recruit and retain quality staff,” Smith said. “Once you have a team in place it’s important that you do everything possible to continue to support them with proper resources but also support them financially in a show of gratitude for a job well done.”
Adding to that show of gratitude, the school board visited the various Natalia campus on Dec. 7 to personally deliver checks to the employees.
In Texas, the rate of teacher turnover has ranged between 15 and 20 percent in recent years, depending on district size, as tracked by the Texas Education Agency. The number of newly certified teachers in Texas dropped 27 percent in just four years prior to the 2019-20 school year.
“As the level of expectation continues to rise for our staff and employees we want to continue to do our part by saying thank you,” Smith said. “I think it’s a phenomenal way to give back right before the holidays.”
Because the Texas Constitution expressly forbids school districts to issue any midyear pay increase unless it was planned in advance or in exchange for more work. Therefore, the payment is referred to as a stipend rather than a bonus, Smith said.
Natalia ISD Superintendent Harry Piles issued a statement after the board action approving the stipend.
“As we are still going through challenging times, I would like to thank the Natalia ISD school board for recognizing our staff’s hard work and dedication with the retention stipend approved by the special meeting Monday morning,” Piles said.