East Valley school districts hope to boost teacher, staff salaries - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Education News

East Valley school districts hope to boost teacher, staff salaries

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Posted: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 12:06 pm

East Valley school districts are hoping the financial picture brightens enough to boost money for teachers and staff next school year.

Most teachers and staff have seen salaries frozen for several years. But their paychecks have shrunk with rising health care and retirement costs.

Many are hoping for a change. One school district — Higley Unified — has already announced it plans to increase salaries for teachers to stay competitive with surrounding districts.

The governor and state Legislature are working toward a budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. But districts are awaiting news so final decisions can be made about salaries and budgets.

“Over the past several years, the district has experienced significant budget cuts. Staff salaries have been frozen in response to the state’s continued fiscal crisis,” said Mesa Unified Superintendent Mike Cowan. “While we do not have a clear picture of the financial landscape for the next school year, the governing board is committed to working toward additional staff compensation if possible.”

For the 2012-2013 fiscal year, both budget proposals from Gov. Jan Brewer and Republican legislative leaders keep per-pupil funding as it is today. But that’s where the similarities end.

Brewer’s proposal includes additional funds, about $200 million for schools to purchase textbooks and school supplies, as well as to make facility repairs.

“It’s hard to establish a budget at this time because there are two budgets from the state that have come forward,” Gilbert Unified Superintendent Dave Allison told the district’s governing board Tuesday. “We have to see how those work out before we can work out the (district’s) budget. With the governor’s proposal we end up with a balanced budget. We have a $4.9 million shortfall with the (GOP) legislative budget.”

Chandler Unified School District plans to hire more teachers, spokesman Terry Locke said, because the district expects another 500 students next year.

“It is still so early in the budget process and legislative session to have anything concrete to share for 2012-2013,” Locke wrote in an e-mail. “We do not project any layoffs. In fact, we plan to hire about 35 new teachers this summer. New expenses related to Arizona State Retirement are expected to exceed $1.6 million. We anticipate another $476,000 in utility costs.”

Some school districts gave staff additional dollars this school year through stipends, but salaries remained the same.

That’s what happened in the Tempe Elementary School District. And for next year, the district is — for the first time in several years — not forecasting an increase to health insurance, said district spokeswoman Monica Allread.

The budget process may take several weeks at the Capitol. Most school districts don’t finalize their budgets until June — and even then they are tweaked well into the school year.

“This happened somewhat last year,” Allison said of the budget differences. “In the end they got together and worked out a budget given to us. I expect the same will be given to us this year.”

Even as school leaders are looking at the 2012-2013 school year budget, they know the following year could be more challenging.

A voter-approved 1-cent sales tax hike was put in place in 2010. It added funds to education, as well as public health and public safety. It is scheduled to end after the coming fiscal year, June 30, 2013. But initiative efforts to put a new 1-cent sales tax before voters in November, with money again going to education, were announced Friday.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6549 or mreese@evtrib.com

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