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THE SOUTH »

Education Funding Increase Allows Texas School
Districts to Keep Staff, Raise Salaries

Two years after cutting $5.4 billion from the state’s education budget, the Texas legislature restored $3.9 billion to the education fund, the Houston Chronicle reported in March.
That means Texas public school districts are in a position of having to compete for prospective teachers. The increased funding is allowing districts to increase teachers’ salaries. Now, for example, teacher career fairs in Houston—some of which took an attendance hit during the 2011 budget cuts—have waiting lists for prospective teachers. Some small Houston-area school districts are offering starting salaries of $50,000.
The raises are necessary to compete, some school districts believe. The Aldine Independent School District was one of the first to hit the $50,000 starting salary mark. Aldine Superintendent Wanda Bamburg, while optimistic about the new wave of recruits, also acknowledges the district's need for bilingual teachers, who will receive a $4,500 stipend, making their starting salary $54,500.
Although the minimum mandated Texas teacher salary of $27,320 is mostly relevant to teachers in rural areas with lower costs of living, independent school districts in urban areas, such as Houston, are now not in competition with each other in terms of salary, but they also are in competition with private industry, which can offer better paying opportunities.
But prospective teachers also identify other factors, such as school reputation and adaptability to new teachers, as ranking high on their prospective employer wish list, proving that, although money does count, it is not the only key to winning qualified applicants.

 
OIL SPILL
Shipping traffic through the Houston Ship Channel was temporarily stalled in March when a barge collided with a ship in the Galveston Bay, the New York Times reported.  The collision caused 1,000 barrels of oil to leak into the bay and left nearly 100 ships briefly stranded on both sides of the channel.
 
GUN RIGHTS
The Georgia Legislature in March approved a bill to expand gun rights in the state, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. Religious leaders now have an “opt in” option to allow guns in houses of worship. The law also permits the use of silencers for hunting.
 
VOTER ID
Virginia election officials are preparing to educate the public about the state’s new voter ID law, The Roanoke Times reported in March.  Voters will receive a flier about the changes as they exit the polls during the May and June primaries. Those who don’t have acceptable forms of identification can receive a new voter ID, which will be available in July.
 
PORT OF SAVANNAH
To the surprise of Georgia lawmakers, President Obama’s most recent budget proposal did not include construction funding for the $652 million expansion of the Port of Savannah. Vice President Joe Biden pledged last year the Savannah project will be completed. The new White House budget, however, seeks just $1.52 million for the project. Despite the shortfall, Gov. Nathan Deal plans to start deepening the shipping channel.
 
UNUSUAL LAWSUIT
In what some are calling a first-of-its-kind lawsuit, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee has filed a lawsuit against TriStar Southern Hills Medical Center on behalf of one of its policyholders, The Tennessean reported in April. BlueCross is suing the medical center, which is outside of its provider network, saying the $44,000 one BlueCross policyholder was charged after being treated for a stroke is too much for anybody to pay.
 
 
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