In November, voters passed Proposition 301, and in doing so, increased the current state sales tax from 5 percent to 5.6 percent. The tax will take effect June 1.
In other words, taxpayers are paying six cents extra for every $10 they spend — all for Arizona’s public schools.
The money will be used to increase teachers’ and staff’s salaries, lower classroom sizes, increase the number of days students attend school from 175 to 180, improve school safety programs, set up an accountability information system and pay for a low income tax credit. The proposition will also give money to universities and community colleges.
The big question for Williams’ teachers is how it will affect their paychecks. The state estimates $445 million will be raised this year with the new tax. Roughly 59 percent or $262.2 million of this money will be used for a classroom site fund.
This fund will be broken down to $104.9 million for performance pay for teachers, $52.4 million for base compensation increases and $104.9 million for discretionary needs, such as teacher salaries, class size reduction, AIMS intervention, teacher development and dropout prevention. Or as it is more commonly known — the 20-40-40.
“The 20 percent is dedicated absolutely to teacher pay increases,” said Jac Heiss, Williams schools superintendent.
This breaks down to less than $700 per teacher, said Heiss.
“In our district, that part may cover the insurance increase for this year,” he said. “I think it’s (Proposition 301) been a great help; but when you neglect a system for 10 years … you get so far behind, it’s going to take more than a 0.6 of a cent tax increase to fix it.”
He said the school district needs to put “a spotlight on trying to increase salary schedules.”
The first 40 percent of the classroom site fund is to go towards performance pay. To help teachers and administration understand exactly what this means, Annie Crego, fifth-grade teacher in Flagstaff and board member for the Arizona Education Association, was in town Jan. 11 to spell out what performance pay is.
“This money is in addition to current salary schedules,” she said.
Crego said Williams will receive approximately $235,000 based on state predictions and pupil enrollment.
“This 40 percent, about $2,000 per teacher, is meant to be part of a performance pay program developed at each district,” she said.
There are various ways to design and implement performance-based pay systems. Crego broke it down into four models — career ladders, contingency pay, knowledge-, competency-, and skill-based pay, and school-based pay.
The second 40 percent of the classroom site fund can be used for a menu of items. The Williams Education Association already has its eye on it.
“The WEA is requesting all that 40 percent be put towards teachers salaries,” said Ann Wells, Williams High School English teacher and WEA member. “In Williams, our salaries are very low.
“We’re looking at 301 to improve our salaries.”
Wells said Williams’ salaries are the lowest in Coconino County, beside Fredonia. And in the state they rank in the bottom 10 percent.
“That means 90 percent of the school districts in the state pay more than us,” she said. “We have a lot of turnovers — we’re not very competitive.”
Kristi Fredrickson, WEA president said, Williams school district once was one of the top paying districts in the state. She said right now there are schools in Arizona that pay $10,000 more per year to teachers with the same qualifications as those in Williams.
“Basically, we’ve been taking a pay cut every year because our insurance costs have gone up and our pay hasn’t,” she said. “Our cost of living has increased, but our pay hasn’t.”
Fredrickson said unless salaries are increased, “We’re not going to be able to attract new teachers — there is no incentive. We’ve got to do something to keep pace.”
However, she added, “There are a couple of areas for more teachers to reduce class sizes.”
It’s not just the teachers who have low wages, said Fredrickson.
“We’re looking into the possibility of 2 percent automatically going into the M&O (maintenance and operations),” she said. “That’s for a 2 percent raise for everybody in this district.”
Fredrickson said this way all employees will receive at least a 2 percent raise every year.
“Our classified staff are underpaid,” she said.
Heiss said there is no doubt the people the district employs are very dedicated.
“It’s (Proposition 301) a big step in the right direction,” he said.
There are a lot of aspects of the legislation that need to be looked into, Heiss said.
“There are 91 pages of strings attached,” he said. “Right now there are no experts.”
According to the Arizona Education Association, the $445 million in revenues will be allocated in this order:
• $70 million for revenue bond payments of Students First, which covers facility improvements.
• $45 million for universities (12 percent of total left) to invest in technology and research-based initiatives.
• $11.25 million for community college districts to invest in workforce programs.
• $15.3 million for one extra day each year added to school year.
• $7.8 million for school safety programs.
• $200,000 for matching grants for character education.
• $7 million for Student Accountability Information System (SAIS) and accountability measures.
• $1.5 million for tutoring grants.
• $25 million for low-income tax credit.
• $262.2 million for classroom site fund.