Low teacher salaries, higher health insurance costs and an increase in state retirement contributions dominated the budget work session of the Williams Unified School District board Feb. 3.
The board examined teacher salaries during a budget analysis of the 2002-2003 school year. The analysis was prepared by WUSD business manager Renee’ Rodriguez.
Employees of the district are facing a 15 to 25 percent increase in out-of-pocket health insurance costs for the 2003-2004 year in addition to an increase in the Arizona State Retirement System contribution from 2.49 percent to 5.51 percent. The increases, coupled with low salaries, are detrimental to employees, said WUSD superintendent Susan Scherz.
“The base starting teacher salary is $23,000. In looking around, I’m not seeing anything that low,” she said.
The base salary for a new teacher in Camp Verde is $24,500 annually and is the lowest salary in the region she was able to identify, Scherz said.
Williams High School teacher Ann Wells, chairperson of the Williams Education Association’s meet-and-confer committee, presented the board with salary comparisons from within Coconino County. The WEA meet-and-confer committee researched salaries and compiled the report. The committee members are Scott Mayfield, Scott Grimes, Denis Kirkley and Juanita McFarland.
The report showed a base salary for a starting teacher is $23,651 in Williams. The base salary for a starting teacher in Flagstaff is $28,000 annually. Other base salaries for school districts included Grand Canyon at $22,990; Fredonia at $23,771 annually; Page at $27,745 annually; Tuba City at $28,697 annually; and Maine at $23,728 annually. The county average for a base salary was $25,512.
The report showed Williams as ranking 181 out of 195 schools on its base salary, placing the district in the bottom seven percent of the comparison. Williams ranked 143 out of 177 schools on its maximum salary, earning the district a ranking of 19 percent at the bottom of comparisons.
One solution to low salaries is skipping steps. As employees remain within the district throughout the years, their salaries are increased in small increments through steps. Skipping even one step each year would increase the amount of teacher salaries quicker, said board member Bruce Baker.
If steps were skipped, salary increases would be implemented at an estimated rate between seven and eight percent, board member Becky Nelson said.
“Salary increases are currently running under four percent,” Nelson said. “A seven to eight percent increase could be too big.”
“Bring it up. This could attract people rather than training them and having them leave,” said board president Albert “Bud” Parenteau Sr. “If they stay here nine years, there is a better chance they will retire here.”
“This may be an enticement that will retain people,” Wells said.
On the classified salary schedule, the base salary is $6 per hour. Instructional classroom aides are required to possess an associate’s degree. At a rate of $6 per hour, finding employees who have an associate’s degree may prove to be difficult, Scherz said.
Salaries and benefits, a combined total of $3.140.565 million, consumed 79.62 percent of the 2002-2003 $4.156.784 million budget. A projected $3.208.001 million will be spent on salaries and benefits during the 2003-2004 school year. Contributions to workmen’s compensation insurance and the Arizona State Retirement System for 2003-2004 is estimated at $198,956, which is $107,772 more than it was in 2002-2003, said Rodriguez.
Rodriguez provided three employee impact examples:
• A WUSD teacher of 24 years receiving a maximum salary of $41,358 receives a $700 annual increase for longevity. This year, his ASRS and medical insurance will cost him $7,897.93. The estimated increase is $10,538.22. Because of the increases, the teacher will take home $2,640.29 less.
° A district classified employee of 21 years receives the maximum pay available on the salary schedule. This year, his ASRS and medical insurance cost is $2,378.05. The estimated cost increase is $3,663.64. This is a loss of $1,285.59.
° A teacher for the past 12 years is making $35,512 this year. Her ASRS and medical insurance cost, which includes family coverage, is $7,734.93. Next year she will move up a step, increasing her salary to $36,332. Her estimated insurance increase cost is $10,222.72. This is a loss of $1,667.79.
Citing a 33 percent teacher turnover rate for the 2001-2002 school year, improving the salary schedule is the most significant factor in retaining teachers, said Wells.
The WEA meet and confer committee report stated that the district’s salary and benefits compensation package is comparatively low to other schools and that salary improvements have historically not occurred over time. Teachers that stay in a district for more than four years become better teachers and student test scores are better overall of teachers with longevity.
The report further stated that a collaborative commitment to raise salaries needs to be made. WEA members acknowledged that cuts may need to be made to improve salaries and benefits and reductions should be made as far away from the classroom as possible. WEA recommended that decisions should be made based on input from staff, administration and the school board. The group requested an ongoing commitment to make competitive salaries a priority.
WEA is currently circulating a survey of all staff to determine what the staff’s budgeting priorities are. The survey is seeking suggestions on what programs should receive less funding in order to meet the priority of reaching competitive salary levels, said Wells.
The next regular meeting of the board is tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Williams Elementary-Middle School library.