HISD hopes to give some workers gas money

June 23, 2008 3:20:54 PM PDT
These days, everyone's feeling the pain at the pump, but for Houston's lowest-paid school district employees -- who make as little as $15,000 a year -- some relief may be on the way.This Thursday, the Houston school district will vote on a plan that could give employees who make less than $30,000 per year a one-time $250 bonus for gasoline. The $2.85 million budget proposal would cover costs for 10,000 employees.

"We've got bus drivers that can barely afford gas for their own cars and cafeteria workers that can't afford enough food for their own kitchens," Houston Independent School District spokesman Terry Abbott said. "Such a spectacular increase in gas is really hurting workers."

The $250 will help, but it is only half of what the workers' union requested, said Wretha Thomas, president of the Houston Educational Support Personnel union.

"The workers were happy to get the $250, but they would've been more satisfied if they got the $500," she said. "The way I look at it, HISD doesn't value the blue-collar workers."

Thomas also said the union wants a 5 percent raise for workers' wages, though the board will only consider a 3 percent raise this Thursday.

Some workers say district officials are doing what they can, and the bonus is a sign they are trying to lighten the load of high gas costs, which was averaging $4 a gallon nationwide on Monday.

"It's a great help for some that are less fortunate," said Charlie Reed, a bus driver who earns about $20,000 per year.

Reed, a five-year employee of the state's largest school district, lives 17 miles from work and spends about $100 a week for gas. He said he hopes the district will eventually offer a gas bonus for all of its workers.

"I probably would think that they would find ways to extend it out even more," Reed said. "I think it's the district just starting somewhere. It's starting on the low end and working its way to the top."

Theresa Culbertson, a bus driver who earns $40,000 a year, won't get the bonus.

"Naturally I would be happier if it was in my (salary) category," said Culbertson, a 29-year district employee. "But for the ones that's in that category, at least it'll help them out."

Those eligible for a check would include cafeteria workers, bus drivers, custodians and clerks. Because the district's lowest-paid teacher, a first-year employee with a bachelor's degree, earns $42,000 per year, educators won't be eligible. The district's highest-paid teacher earns $70,000 per year.

Abbott said about one-third of the school's 30,000 employees would qualify for a fuel check.

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