Several Robstown Independent School District teachers pleaded for pay raises at a budget workshop last week, citing rising fuel costs and other cost-of-living increases.

About two dozen teachers attended Friday's workshop and heard the administration's presentation of its $24.3 million preliminary budget for the 2008-09 school year.

Lotspeich fourth-grade teacher Madeline Caraway said she was concerned about the staff at RISD. She said teachers have been working hard to raise achievement test scores and that teachers deserved more pay.

"We're asking tonight that you consider an across-the-board raise for the staff of Robstown," Casaway said, adding that Robstown teachers are paid "way below" teachers in area school districts, including Taft and Sinton.

"We're begging of you as a board to consider us," she said.

Caraway, president of the Texas State Teachers Association, said the Governor's Excellence Educator Awards, which have gone recently to Lotspeich Elementary School, Ortiz Intermediate School and the high school, are pay incentives for teachers. But Caraway said the rewards have resulted in distributions with recipient teachers getting less than $2,000, with the majority of teaching recipients getting less than $1,000.

Caraway added that some teachers at schools that did not receive the Governor's Excellence Educator Awards have received no incentive pay raises. She also said math and science stipends paid to math and science teachers do not apply to elementary school teachers.

"There has to be some groundwork made at the elementary level in math and science," Casaway said.

Ortiz Intermediate teacher Armando Castro also addressed the school board, asking for 3 to 5 percent raises for teachers. He suggested the school district dip into its reserved funds to pay for teacher raises.

"We'd like you to consider that for us," said Castro, also president of the Association of Texas Professional Educators. "Our economy is not going to get better. I know that."

Hattie Martin Elementary School teacher Norma Rendon, local representative of the American Federation of Teachers, said teachers work hard and the "economy is killing us."

Rendon said proposals by superintendent Roberto Garcia, such as a $50 incentive for six weeks of teacher perfect attendance and incentives of $1,000 to $400 to commute to work, are "not enough."

"He tried the best that he could from attrition…but again it's not enough," Rendon said of Garcia. "Find it in your hearts to look at it very closely and find something for us."

Rendon teaches at Hattie Martin Elementary School, which along with Seale Junior High School, remain the poorest academic performing schools in the district.

"I am not thrilled with our scores, but we work very hard," Rendon said.

Garcia said the budget was very preliminary and he was seeking the advice of the school board. He said several factors were taken into consideration in preparation of the 2008-09 budget, including a projected $85,000 increase in fuel and $700,000 more in energy costs.

In addition, Garcia said continued losses in enrollment equate to less state funding based on student attendance.

Garcia said the school district receives 90 percent of its funding from the state and the RISD would get $2 million less in state aid in 2008-09 because of fewer students.

Business manager Jodi Schroedter said RISD enrollment has dropped from 3,823 students in 2005-06 to 3,416 students in 2007-08.

Schroedter noted 77 percent of the school district's funds are used to pay teacher salaries and that RISD would have 19 fewer teachers in 2008-09 than it did in 2005-06.

She said the current RISD staff is 618 teachers and employees, reduced by 36 from last year, and would continue to decline because of further anticipated enrollment declines.

"If we're going to be saving through attrition, why not use some of that money for pay raises?" asked board member Jerry Gonzalez.

"Can we afford to give them a raise?" added board member Roberto Tapia.

"I know you're here because you want money," Tapia said to the teachers.

Schroeder said the school district's reserved fund balance is projected to drop from $9.47 million as of Aug. 31, 2007 to $6.48 million by the end of the 2008-09 school year.

"As of right now, there is a ($3 million) deficit," Schroedter said of the 2008-09 budget.

Garcia said the state recommended that RISD maintain a three-month operational rainy day fund, or about $6.5 million.

Garcia warned the rainy day fund would be depleted in the next two school years if there is no increase in student enrollment.

"The loss of the students and having to compensate for that and having to budget $700,000 more to pay the light bill is really hurting the school district, in addition to the increased fuel costs," Garcia said. "Because of the fuel costs, we're also experiencing a food cost increase from 20 to 40 percent for next year."

Garcia said future economic development in Robstown, such as The Outlets at Corpus Christi Bay, would not necessarily enrich the school district because he said the state would reduce funding as the RISD generates more local tax dollars.

The school board on July 15 approved a salary schedule for 2008-09 for teachers, full-time librarians, full-time counselors and a full-time nurse. The salary schedule provided state-mandated "step" pay increases for continued service of those employees.

"It averages about $1,500 a year, " Garcia said, adding that the step increases will provide RISD teachers, counselors, nurses and librarians an average raise of 3 percent.

School board member Richard Gonzalez said the approved salary schedule isn't sufficient.

"I believe that 3 percent is not enough," he said.

"We are burned out and over-worked," said Ortiz Intermediate School teacher Norma Peralez. "We're doing it because we love our children. I keep coming back because I love my kids."

"We are listening. We are hearing you out," replied school board member Victor Orona. "We're going to get with Dr. Garcia so that we can work it out."

The school board will meet again today for another budget workshop. The budget must be approved by Aug. 20.