For more than a decade, hourly wages for janitors, bus drivers and maintenance workers hardly budged in the Mesa Unified School District, though teachers saw slight increases along the way.
Now, thanks to extra state funding, more than 11,000 employees in the district will see an average 4 percent boost in their paychecks starting this fall.
“We’ve gone so many years getting so little (from the Legislature) that it is pretty exciting,” said Janice Ramirez, assistant superintendent of personnel.
This month, the Legislature and Gov. Janet Napolitano agreed to a state budget that includes more than $480 million in increased funding for the state’s public schools.
Like Mesa, the Tempe Union High School District is expected to recommend similar increases in salaries this week.
Other East Valley school districts are assessing their state funding and budgets.
The Mesa school board met on Tuesday in closed session and recommended a budget that afforded 4 percent pay increases to teachers and an average 5 percent to support staff. The board approved the budget for the 2006-07 school year totaling more than $570 million — an increase of more than $26 million over last year’s budget.
The board also boosted the amount the district is spending on benefits, and plans to bolster annual salary increases based on years of experience and realign wages to be more competitive with surrounding districts.
“This package is exactly what the doctor ordered,” said Rich Berumen, outgoing president of the Mesa Education Support Personnel Association. “This will definitely help in recruitment and retainment” of staff.
Ramirez presented the governing board’s recommended package at a
meeting with representatives of employee groups.
Ramirez said employees haven’t received such significant raises across the board since the 1990-91 school year when they received a 4 percent raise. Teachers received more than 4 percent during the 2000-01 school year, but support staff received only a 1.5 percent raise.
Faith Risolo, president of the Mesa Education Association, welcomed the salary package for teachers saying “it’s amazing we can do this kind of thing for the employees.”
Elaine Miner, president of the Mesa school board said members were “relieved” when they left budget meetings, a stark contrast to what they thought would happen before the Legislature and governor settling on the state budget.
“We were anticipating the worst (this year). It’s too disappointing to expect better,” Miner said, adding she had thought the governing board would be forced to recommend cuts.
“We want so badly to pay our staff what they deserve. I’m hopeful this trend will continue and we will continue to be compensated in . . . education. We’ve been woefully behind for so long.”
The Mesa district also plans to add about 60 more classrooms of full-day kindergarten after the Legislature earmarked an $80 million increase statewide for that this year, followed by another $80 million in the 2007-08 school year.
Last year, just seven Mesa schools had state-funded fullday kindergarten.
Other increases to next year’s district budget include about $16 million more for regular education programs, about $2 million extra for special education programs, and about $2.8 million more to cover transportation costs.
The school board is expected to formally approve the salaries and benefits for Mesa district employees on Thursday.
TEACHERS: 4 percent salary increase
Example: A first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree will earn $34,026 in 2006-07, up from $32,717 in 2005-06.
SUPPORT EMPLOYEES: 5 percent salary increase
Example: A first-year principal’s secretary will earn $13.20 per hour in 2006-07, up from $12.56 per hour in 2005-06.
Source: Mesa Unified School District