Before the final bell rang on the school year, teachers in the Payson Unified School District learned that on average they’ll get a pay boost of nearly 13 percent, thanks to the just-adopted state budget.
At its May 21 meeting, the school board scrapped the original contracts, which included a roughly 4 percent raise for most district employees — including teachers. The new contracts feature a much bigger raise for the teachers. That includes a $4,000 increase to the base salary and an additional three-step bump (each step equals $500) based on experience. That brings the total raise to $5,500 per teacher. Starting salaries will rise from $34,000 to more than $38,000 — a 16 percent jump.
The board decided to use all of the additional money for teacher raises approved by the Arizona Legislature in the face of the Red for Ed protests. District officials said the big raises will ensure the district remains competitive when it came to hiring teachers. The state auditor general’s annual report said Payson teachers make an average of about $43,000, compared to a state average of $48,000.
State lawmakers gave districts the flexibility to use the money to hire more teachers to reduce class sizes or bolster key programs, like advanced placement classes, reading classes in elementary grades or vocational classes.
The school board did vote to hire two more teachers — but almost all the extra money will go to raises.
“Lets say we’re going to try to compete for someone from the Valley, if (Valley districts) chose to use the money in the same way we did and they were already $4,000 or $5,000 ahead of us, they’re still $5,000 ahead of us,” said Superintendent Greg Wyman to the board.
Wyman said it’s just a wait and see game to determine if Payson can still attract good teachers — especially with an active teacher shortage in the works.
“The issue is ... I cannot guarantee that if you ask for one, two or three (additional teachers) that we can find you one, two or three teachers,” said Wyman. “As of today, we do not have any candidates for those positions ....”
PUSD Business Manager Kathie Manning said the state hopes to continue raising the base salary of teachers, with money lawmakers have said they will add to the budget in the next two years. Ultimately, Gov. Doug Ducey called for a 20 percent increase in teacher pay over the next three years. This would still leave Arizona teacher pay below the national average.
“At the state level they have been trying to get to $40,000 as a minimum — it’s been talked about over the years,” she said. “So this gets us close and hopefully if next year is another 5 percent, we’ll probably be able to get to that.”
During the Red for Ed protests, teachers often compared their salaries to counterparts in other states. Arizona usually came out at the bottom of the pay scale. This has contributed to the shortage in teachers. Why stay in Arizona if the next state over pays thousands more?
Wyman presented the board with three different choices on how to spend the money.
Each added at least one new teacher, but depending on how the board decided to increase teacher pay, that number went from two to three.
In response to his suggestions, board president Barbara Underwood suggested a compromise.
“I was thinking about it — all the things that Dr. Wyman said about the base versus rewarding the veteran teachers versus the class sizes (and so) my recommendation is a combo between (options) A and C,” she said.
She suggested adding $4,000 to the base of an entry-level position, taking it from $34,000 to $38,000. That $4,000 bump to base pay would ripple throughout the salary schedule affecting the base pay at each salary level.
Instead of adding only two steps to the increase, she added three — “for the longevity of the employees that have been here,” she said.
Underwood then suggested hiring two new teachers to help with class size issues.
Shane Keith protested this compromise still didn’t reward the older employees as much as those on the lower end of the salary schedule.
“I guess it’s more because of the salary schedule and how we operate,” said Keith. “It’s hard to benefit your veteran teachers to a specific degree just based off the salary schedule.”
Keith said the higher a teacher’s salary, the smaller the percentage raise.
So the $5,500 pay boost produces a 9 percent raise for a teacher making $60,000 but a 16 percent boost for a teacher making $34,000.
“So my concern is that we have loyal veteran teachers in this district who have been here for a very long time and served this community and they are going to end up getting less (as a percentage),” said Keith.
But Wyman suggested the flat amount will actually benefit a district like Payson — with low base pay of $34,000 compared to big districts like Phoenix Union — which has a base teacher salary of $57,000.
“If you went to give 10 percent to every single teacher, then the gaps that you have between the haves and the have nots would remain the same,” said Wyman.
That helps declining enrollment districts such as Payson, which lose state support each year.
“If you’re a growth district, you have more money coming in anyway because the growth and so you may have been able to pick up the difference out of growth money and so it becomes a different conversation,” said Wyman. “Not everybody’s equal in this conversation.”
For more information or assistance, contact Governor Ducey's press office: (602) 542-1342.