BROWNSVILLE, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Brownsville Independent School District educators came forward with their stories after a year in teaching unlike any they have seen before.

“We’re on a ship that sank and we’re holding on to each other,” said Martin Leal, a Texas History teacher for Brownsville ISD.

Leal like other educators are faced with a new workload expected of them to get all students up to speed after nearly 18 months away from the classroom due to COVID-19.

“The students are being tested on things that they have not been exposed to yet, things we’ve had to go back and re-teach because they missed it entirely during the pandemic,” said Laura Carmona, an English reading teacher at BISD.

Credit: KVEO Iris Karami; Pictured: Laura Carmona

Leal pointed out he has never had high blood pressure in his three decades of teaching until this year, and said other colleagues have passed away while working.

“We’ve had two of our peers, one had a heart attack in class and passed away and then we had another teacher who recently had a stroke, I believe it was a stroke, on-campus and passed away,” said Leal.

Now, educators are considering leaving the profession sooner than expected, according to Leal.

Credit: KVEO Iris Karami: Pictured Martin Leal

“One of the things is that I have been joking for the past five years that I am going to retire but this year it became a real thing,” said Leal. “Right now we are about 10-14 teachers talking about retirement.”

Ida Abeldaño, an organizer with the Association of Brownsville Educators, said at a recent school board meeting it was decided that a $500 advance would be given to educators on Dec. 17.

“This $500 that is going to be paid out in December, is something that wasn’t planned to be paid out in December, but what they are doing is just advancing it from what was going to be paid out next year,” said Abeldaño.

According to BISD spokesperson Jason Moody, the $500 is coming from a retention stipend allotted to BISD staff. The retention stipend came from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) grant that was given to schools across the country to address the impacts of the pandemic.

Brownsville was awarded $185 million, according to Abeldaño, and of that money, $3,200 will be distributed across a span of three years.

Moody said there is $1,500 left for the next two years.

“A very disheartening $500 when in comparison to other districts that are getting triple that amount,” said Carmona.

At Donna ISD, school board member Maricela Valdez said the school is giving $9,000 in a retention stipend to all educators across a three-year period. In total, Donna ISD received $75.6 million according to their website.

When ValleyCentral asked Moody if the district is thinking about adjusting the stipend amount, the question was not answered.

BISD Superintendent Rene Gutierrez said in a press release on Nov. 18, “this stipend is being made for the public educational purpose of working during some very difficult and trying times of a national pandemic and to further incentivize and retain employees at the district.”