GC VILLAGE — There was applause in the Grand Canyon School library late Tuesday night of last week. The local school board had just approved proposed raises for teachers and other employees on a slim 3-2 vote.
The pay increase comes with a cost to the school district, however. Although nobody disagrees that teachers are vastly underpaid, Grand Canyon’s vote means the district must now cut up to $238,000 to cover last week’s action.
"The decision we made means we’re going to need to make adjustments now for more than $215,000," said Chuck Wahler, school board president. "And what specific actions will be taken haven’t been determined."
In a meeting that lasted more than four hours, the evening began with the board looking at budget cuts based on the $215,000 figure. The school’s administration came up with several proposals to cover the deficit, something teachers had done a few weeks earlier. But later in the evening, the $215,000 hole grew even deeper after salary negotiations.
In the end, teachers and other staff saw their salaries increased by 3.2 percent and the salary schedule base was raised by 4.5 percent, for a total of 7.7 percent. Board members Bess Foster, Nicky Lindig and Jon Streit voted in favor of the action while Wahler and Tom Pittenger voted against it.
Pittenger said he didn’t vote against the motion because he opposed giving raises, but feared for its impact on next year’s budget.
"It’s not that I don’t support the teachers, I just have concerns about projected cuts," Pittenger said Wednesday. "We’re extending ourselves financially. We do not want to cut into future funding. There are a lot of questions."
At about 8:15 p.m., during the Tuesday meeting, Lindig had made a motion, seconded by Foster, to approve a base increase of 4.5 percent and a salary step increase of 3.1 percent, one-tenth of a percentage point less than what teachers had been expecting.
High-school teacher Marcus Fuhrman told the board that the original proposal was for a 3.2-percent raise, not a 3.1-percent raise.
Pittenger told teachers that they had agreed to the 3.1-percent raise, but teachers pointed to a 3.2-percent raise given to classified employees.
"This issue exists because the teachers were at 3.1 and then classified went up to 3.2," teacher Betty Hultin said. "End it please and put us at 3.2."
Hultin added that teachers do not know how that happened and find themselves in a battle.
"We only want to be even. It’s a matter of balancing the scales," she said. "By no means would we ever support cutting salary from maintenance. I think it was a mistake and don’t think you realized it. I feel that’s the core of where the antagonism is coming from."
The discussion had turned heated at times moments earlier over the 0.1-percent discrepancy.
"We’ve pretty much said we don’t want to revisit that salary schedule again," Pittenger said, later adding, "I will pay one-tenth of 1 percent out of my pocket. Will that make you feel better?"
"What makes us feel better is a group of leaders who know what they have here," Fuhrman countered. "It’s a matter of opinion, a matter of style ... and it’s important to us."
The board then went over exactly what another 0.1-percent added to the raise would do to the budget.
"I’m a little concerned that we’ll let this fall apart over one-tenth of 1 percent," Pittenger said. "We have spent more than three months trying to come up with the figures we have here now."
As far as the base salary increase, the board wanted to know if teachers expected that to be raised every year. Fuhrman said it was difficult to answer that question not knowing the future and Foster added that it would need to be addressed again to keep the district competitive with others.
Streit said they could not raise the base every year, "we just can’t afford to do that. It has to be the understanding that if the base is raised this year, you can’t expect it to be raised again next year."
With Lindig’s motion now long forgotten, Wahler and business manager Bonnie Haven left the meeting to "crunch numbers" to determine the 3.2-percent raise’s impact on the budget. After returning and more discussion about the growing deficit, the board passed the increase on the 3-2 vote.
Wahler said the deficit has now grown from $215,000 to about $238,000. There will be more meetings to determine how to cut that amount from the budget without affecting students.
Wahler said final decisions will be made between "now and sometime in June."