School board finds money<br>to give teacher raises

The Grand Canyon School Board issued "step increases" to teachers and staff during a special meeting early last week. After budget work sessions and crunching the numbers, the board was able to come up with $133,000 in cuts to be able to offer the move up the salary schedule.

The high percentage of the cuts involves school staffing. The first-grade position currently held by the departing Cynthia Olsen will not be filled, which accounts for $53,000. A teacher will also not be hired to fill the vacancy created by sixth-grade teacher Lori Lundquist’s one-year leave of absence, which adds another $44,000.

In the school’s maintenance department, an employee under the supervision of Andrew Aldaz will also take a leave of absence. Part-timers will see their hours increase to help cover those duties. The net result will be a savings of $18,500.

"My thought is we can go forward and approve the salary schedule at least for certified because we have to issue contracts," board president Chuck Wahler said during the budget work session. But in that same vein, Wahler added the board needs "to realize the implications of doing all this."

Wahler was referring to a little bit of a gamble involving school staff. The three previously mentioned vacancies have created a one-year fix for the district in terms of the budget. But at this time next year, Lundquist and the maintenance employee will return. If the school district does not see any turnover, there could be some real challenges ahead.

However, most believe there will be attrition, as has been the case historically in the local district. Wahler was also referring to a couple of other situations that could create concern, such as reallocating work loads with the elimination of the English Language Learners and elementary computer teaching positions.

"By issuing contracts, we’re not guaranteeing anybody any particular assignment," Wahler said, a fact that gives the district options with its staff, although teachers can only teach subjects for which they are certified.

The maintenance situation basically results in the loss of one-half of a position. Aldaz said the essentials will be covered, but there will likely be some impact.

"What we will be losing will be with preventative maintenance," Aldaz said. "We’ve already lost some of that and it will deteriorate a little more. We do have to cover the essential things ... but some of the other areas would take a back seat."

The part-timers could see their work time increase to 39 hours per week. However, because that number falls under the full-time definition of 40 hours, the district will not have to pay benefits, which creates savings.

"I have a slight qualm with working someone as much as we can up to a point where we don’t have to pay them benefits, it bothers me," said board member Tom Pittenger, who was then told that very situation currently exists with teacher aides. "I know we’re looking at a one-year temporary situation."

Besides the teacher and maintenance staffing changes, other cuts involve classroom supplies, athletic supplies and the elimination of the athletic director.

The $7,500 cut in classroom supplies brought lively discussion from among teachers attending the work session. Board members Jon Streit and Tammie Harris wanted to know what was being sacrificed.

School superintendent Ray Vernon said there had been a proposal by principal Richard Dodson to increase the annual classroom supply limit for teachers from $200 to $250. The $7,500 figure was created by just eliminating that increase and staying at the $200 level.

There was some confusion over the definition of classroom supplies. In fact, some teachers apparently went through this school year believing they had a $200 limit on supplies for their students, when in fact those were limits for their own teaching supplies, such as paper, pencils, Post-It notes and paper clips.

Teacher Jeanne Yost suggested the school go back to a previous method of ordering supplies in bulk "to get more for our dollar." Supplies appears to be a touchy issue and Yost said many teachers use their own money to buy them.

Business manager Bonnie Haven said soft capital money is available to use for classroom supplies, something that was available this year. Those comments brought gasps from a few teachers.

"It’s the supervisor’s decision on how to spend it, not mine," Haven said. "He’s not here to defend himself."

Dodson was not present at the meeting.

Wahler also cited a figure of $43,000 in soft capital that shows up on the budget as teacher supplies. Haven said that money is available for the more expensive items that last longer, but added it can also be used for other supplies.

"It’s how their supervisor chose to divvy out the money," Haven added. "It was not my call."

Wahler ended the issue by saying, "it seems clear there’s a sufficient amount of money in there and there needs to be a discussion between teachers and administration."

"It should be a goal of the new principal to have that communication in place," Streit added.

The amounts on other cuts used in the $133,000 formula included $4,000 for athletic supplies and $6,000 in net savings involving the elimination of the AD and cutting the starting salary for the incoming superintendent and principal.

Teacher Marcus Fuhrman also submitted six pages of ideas for cuts through comments he received from surveying other teachers. Among some of the more interesting and possibly controversial ideas:

o Eliminate middle-school sports and offer intramurals.

o Certify teachers to drive school buses as substitutes; cut out elementary and cafeteria aides and use volunteers in their place.

o Lower salaries for incoming administrators.

o Cut the athletics budget by reducing practice time.

o Control spending. Fix a budget and enforce it.

o Combine the principal and superintendent positions.

o School consolidation.

o Reduce maintenance staff, use disciplined students instead of sending them to in-school suspension or lunch detention.

o Freeze maintenance salaries, freeze administrator salaries, eliminate one or two secretary positions.

o Cut librarian from full-time to part-time and use that person in the classroom.

o Eliminate busing.

o Sell advertising space on the outside of school buses.

o "Buy-out option" for the district’s veteran employees.

The idea to eliminate busing created some interesting conversation. The practice of busing students to school, under state law, is a privilege, not a requirement. However, Vernon and Aldaz both indicated busing pays for itself through state monies designated for transportation.

Wahler said there were many good ideas in the compilation of comments, but added the board needed "serious dollar figures" to incorporate any of them.

"Those are all important ideas to cut back and use fewer resources," Streit said. "Can you put a dollar figure to each one? No, but we would see it in the long run."

In a special meeting following the budget session, the board unanimously approved the salary schedule for 2003-04.

The board then approved 5-0 the employee step increase and any other raises created by educational upgrades.

Although receiving the step increase, teachers will actually have lower paychecks by about 15 cents each. That’s because retirement system costs increased substantially.

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