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Tue, Nov. 19

Grand Canyon teachers<br>seeking higher salaries<br><br>

GC VILLAGE — Grand Canyon teachers are faced this week with the task of finding an estimated $92,000 to cut from the school district budget to receive a proposed raise. And any proposed cuts would need approval from the Grand Canyon Board of Education to become a reality.

Marcia Lonetti, who was speaking on behalf of other teachers, addressed school board members Chuck Wahler and Bess Foster Thursday night during a salary schedule work session. Lonetti proposed a salary schedule change from flat-dollar incremental raises to a percentage-based system.

"This percentage-based salary schedule is so much fairer," Lonetti said. "We’re only asking for a one-time correction to the inequity ... it would be fair for experienced teachers to get a 1.7-percent increase as opposed to a 3-percent increase for beginners."

Grand Canyon teachers rank dead last in Coconino County with an average starting salary of $21,625 per year, Lonetti said. Those numbers exist despite a staff of several teachers who have achieved high levels of accomplishments.

"I feel like teachers are having to find places to cut that this school would have to cut if 301 money is not here," Lonetti said. "Flat-dollar increments reward inexperience and minimal education; it penalizes years of experience and advanced education."

Lonetti’s proposal evolved during the evening while she was told the numbers were changing. In fact, numbers she had used from information obtained only one day earlier were seemingly outdated.

"We’re starting out in the red," Grand Canyon school superintendent Dale Fitzner said. "We have to make cuts to reach the break-even point."

Lonetti’s projections called for new funds of $85,000, which could be used to fund an improved salary structure. Sources of this "new money" would be two areas of Proposition 301, the 2-percent inflation funding from the state and Proposition 101 money.

"Arizona is one of the fastest growing states," Lonetti said at the meeting, which was attended by about 25 people. "That means Proposition 301 money will continue to increase in coming years."

Wahler said he had troubles with aspects of Lonetti’s plan in terms of the numbers working out.

"I have no problem with the concept of a percentage-based salary schedule," Wahler said. "I think it makes a whole lot of sense ... but I’m uncomfortable with (Prop) 101 money because we’re not guaranteed it every year."

Fitzner said assumptions made in Lonetti’s presentation were not realistic because her sources of "new money" were not real.

The school district pointed to an increase in various expenses for the coming budget year. For example, Wahler said propane costs increased more than 25 percent. Insurance costs also went up for the district’s 47 employees and the district would want a contingency of about $30,000. Fitzner backed up those numbers.

"With the budget right now, if we didn’t raise any salaries and with the other costs, we’ve got a $13,000 to $15,000 deficit," Fitzner said.

Principal Ray Vernon said the district would support raises "if the money was there."

"We think the money is there," Lonetti countered. "It’s a matter of putting it into salary schedules."

The district will be adding to the staff with the conversion of the art position from three-quarters full-time to a 100-percent full-time position. Upper elementary will be losing a teacher, but a position will be added to high school.

Lonetti had examples of ways the budget could be cut, but was met with resistance with every idea that came up.

For example, Lonetti said the district pays a lot of money in overtime for bus drivers.

"Why not rotate bus drivers ... encourage parents to get bus driving certificates to drive bus routes," she said. "I encourage that instead of paying all the overtime."

Andrew Aldaz, maintenance supervisor who heads of the school’s transportation department, said they had tried that in the past.

"We’ve already tried looking for part-time people," he said. "It worked for about a half year. Then we wanted to hire Fred Harvey for bus service. That didn’t work either, it was more costly than using our own drivers."

Another area that could sustain cuts would be athletics, Lonetti said. She said sports teams do not need two coaches. Matt Yost, athletic director, agreed in some circumstances, but expressed concern over filling certification requirements set by the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

"I think our coaches are great, I’m just saying that’s a place to cut costs," Lonetti said.

Cynthia Olsen, a longtime member of the local Booster Club, said athletics may be taking a hit because of a lack of volunteers for that organization. Olsen couldn’t say if there would even be a Booster Club next year.

In the end, it appeared teachers would need to go through the budget line by line in an effort to find cuts. Teacher Lori Lundquist said there’s no need for all the money spent on school supplies, which has a budget of $39,000 for next year.

Then there’s the unknown factor involving the small-schools legislation. Whether or not House Bill 2183 passes this week will impact future school finances.

Another salary schedule work session was scheduled for Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in the school’s music room. A committee of different types of employees was formed to study the problem.

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