Teacher raises are top issue in talks on budget

Administration to recommend 3.2 percent increase

The Grand Canyon School Board held a work session on next year's budget last Thursday, examining a range of alternatives to address teacher compensation for the 2006-07 school year.

School Business Manager Lee Metheny presented the board with a summary of figures related to four different pay options ­ no increase, step increase, 3.2 percent increase and the percentage increase plus step.

Without a pay raise, the district's salary costs will drop by about $24,000, to $2.16 million due to departures by teachers at the high end of the pay scale.

The step increase would add about $15,000 to salary costs while the 3.2 percent increase would add almost $27,000. Combined the additional cost would be about $58,000.

Overall salaries represent 86.1 percent of the district's total budget, Metheny said.

There are 26 levels on the staff salary schedule, starting with a base of $24,312 at entry level for a certfied teacher with a bachelor's degree and topping out at $52,496 for a master's degree plus another 36 hours of continuing education.

Other benefits, like subsidized housing and the district picking up 100 percent of insurance costs, represent the equivalent of another $8,000 and $12,000 annually. There are seven teachers who have maxed out on their salaries with five returning next year. Metheny said those teachers could not receive a raise in the form of a step increase, though they could receive the 3.2 percent raise.

On the revenue side, the district expects to pick up another $34,000 in property taxes as property values have gone up 3.1 percent over last year.

Metheny said that would enable the district to fund a 3.2 percent increase without an increase to the tax rate. That 3.2 percent across the board is the administration's recommendation.

Superintendent Sheila Breen said that above that would require a property tax increase.

Dan Lopez, speaking on behalf of a teacher's committee examining pay issues, said that the biggest concern among teachers is that a 3.2 percent increase would be eclipsed by increases in other expenses.

"Our retirement is going up 1.7 (percent). You take that off the 3.2, now we're at 1.5 (percent)," he said "We're looking at 3.2 and some type of cost of living adjustment. Our trash has gone up, our propane has gone up, water's gone up. So if it stays at 3.2, we're basically going to be breaking even and the teachers on the lower end will lose money."

Metheny confirmed that teachers at the lower end of the pay scale would have between $20 and $36 less per pay period.

The board had originally planned to discuss and vote on a raise package at the April meeting, but Lopez asked for more time for the committee to meet.

"With spring break, it's been very difficult to get all of the teachers together," said Lopez. "We would just like some time to sit down amongst ourselves, look at the numbers and come up with a workable, intelligent proposal as to what we think our raise should be."

He anticipated that they could meet and come to an agreement, but not before the April 11 board meeting.

"We feel confident that we could have something finished by the end of next week," Lopez said. "We could commit to having something by Thursday."

Breen said that the board could postpone a decision until the regular monthly meeting on May 9 and still meet the May 15 deadline for teacher contracts.

He said that teachers are most concerned that a 3.2 percent raise won't offset rising living and retirement costs.

Librarian Nancy Green, speaking on behalf of the Grand Canyon Professional Educators, said their recommendation is a step increase plus a 3.2 percent raise, as well as raising the whole salary schedule so that base is $25,000.

Breen said the 3.2 percent raise will get the base to that level. Meanwhile, she said in the future, they would explore the possibility of eliminating the current salary schedule

"That's probably not something we would be able to implement this year," she said. "It's something to look at for the future. It would also get us out of being locked in the salary schedule, having people being frozen."

Lopez said base salary shouldn't include 301 money ­ state money earmarked as performance pay for teachers who pursue professional development.

"One of the issues with the teachers on the 301 money is, (they're told), 'This is part of your salary,' but it isn't. In my simple terms, it's overtime. If it's part of my salary, I don't have to come to Friday and Saturday training."

Breen said that for tax and accounting purposes, payouts of 301 money are included in salary.

Lopez asked where the board might look in the budget for another $100,000 for salaries, rather than raise it through taxes. Breen said they would likely look to staff positions, though if the state mandates and funds full-day kindergarten, that would free some early education money to use in other areas K-three. The state legislature is also working on a budget that would include raising entry level salary for new teachers to $30,000.

"That will not be dead until the budget is finished," Breen said. "They're still talking about those items."

Metheny suggested looking at the food service budget, which needs about $9,000 a year from Operations and Maintenance funds to break even.

"I don't like telling kids, OK, you've got to pay more for lunch," he said. "But we have a four-day school week so if we charge 25 percent more, it's the same as going back to a five-day school week."

That would free enough money to give a 3.7 percent increase, he said.

Teacher Lori Rommel asked if students could be asked to provide some of their own supplies.

"It's not a good idea," Breen said. "When you figure, for example, paper is the big issue with a lot of us but we only spend about $150,000 a year on paper. It seems like a lot but when you've got a $3.2 million budget and you're only spending $150,000 on paper that is a key component of learning, that's not the place to cut."

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