In an effort to help offset a major teacher deficit this school year, Ector County Independent School District is looking to incorporate a unique alternative to traditional teaching—virtual classrooms. At a hefty price tag, however, community members are questioning the district’s allocation of resources and whether traditional teachers are getting the short end of the stick.

At their September 18 board meeting, ECISD trustees will consider a $1.8 million contract between the district and Austin-based virtual staffing company Proximity Learning Inc. According to ECISD, the agreement would help fill 21 classroom vacancies with virtual teachers. The total teacher deficit is said to be over 200 vacancies.

The process will require ECISD to equip each classroom with the technology necessary to allow lessons to be streamed live, while an aide manages and facilitates the lessons on the ground. Each virtual teacher and in-person aide will receive a salary of approximately $59,400 and $17,400, respectively, resulting in a total cost of about $77,000 in salary expenses for each classroom.

Residents critical of the proposal pointed out the district would be paying a considerably larger salary for entry-level virtual teachers compared to traditional teachers at ECISD, whose salaries start at $47,500 and are capped at $72,000. And with rising costs of living in the Permian Basin, the district’s available resources, they argue, should be focused inside the classroom, beginning with the teachers they have.

In addition, many allege that while the district seems to have plenty of money to consider outfitting classrooms with virtual technology, current teachers have been forced to secure basic classroom materials on their own, sometimes out of their own pocket. A recent example of this made news when one teacher did not have enough tables and chairs to seat every student in her classroom, causing her to drive to Home Depot and fill her vehicle with buckets and plastic tables, which the store manager graciously donated. A school official later claimed the teacher failed to make a request to the administration for more chairs.

Not all trustees were on board with the Virtual Proximity proposal at the most recent board meeting, one reportedly even having described the idea as “terrible.”

The school board is scheduled to take up consideration of the proposal Tuesday, September 18 at 6:30 p.m. The meeting is open to the public.

Matt Stringer

Matthew Stringer is from Odessa, TX and serves as a West Texas Correspondent for Texas Scorecard.