Pay hikes

A teacher who made $66,000 in Mesa Public Schools last year will now be making about $75,000, thanks to a big boost in school funding approved by the state legislature in June.

MPS is putting nearly all of its new state funding toward region-leading pay increases for teachers and staff.

During a special meeting on Sept. 6, the MPS Governing Board approved a revised compensation plan for the current school year that gives hourly employees a $3-per-hour bump and teachers an annual increase of 5% plus $3,000.

The change brings the starting wage for teachers to $53,500, up from the $50,000 approved in the spring. The new minimum wage for hourly employees is $15.60.

The pay increase will apply retroactively to the start of the school year.

The updated pay plan gives teachers an average salary increase of 10% from last year, 6.95% for school administrators and 5.25% for superintendents, according to a district memo.

Importantly, the plan also puts the raises in the form of permanent adjustments to base pay, rather than one-time retention stipends as the previous plan was partially structured.

Substitutes are getting raises, too, and the district is making an investment in special education support by giving aides in the program a $4 per hour raise and increasing hours for two categories of special education assistants to make the positions health insurance eligible.

MPS is paying for these beefier raises using an unexpected $32.6 million in maintenance and operation funding the district received when the state legislature approved an extra $1 billion for  K-12 schools in June.

Since the legislative session ran so long this year, many school districts, including MPS, had to pass budgets in the spring without knowing exactly how much they would be getting from the state.

There were raises in the spring budget, but they fell short of what employee groups and some board members were pushing for amid inflation and challenging work conditions with staff shortages and pandemic impacts.

In putting the unexpected windfall toward more generous raises, the governing board delivered on a promise it made when passing the skimpier pay increases to revisit compensation if the state legislature approved more money than expected.

There were a few tears of happiness shed on the dais and in the audience as the board prepared to vote.

Board President Jenny Richardson said the starting salary for teachers was about $38,000 when she started on the board eight years ago.

“That’s quite a jump in eight years, (but) it’s not enough for the work that they do,” Richardson said.

Mesa Educators Association President and math teacher Kelly Berg thanked the board for making the pay increases part of base pay rather than one-time stipends or bonuses.

“On behalf of me and our employee groups, thank you for this money,” Berg said. “I know for me and my family, it’s gonna make a difference. And I know for other families, it will make a difference, too.”

The new pay plan passed 4-0 with one member absent.

Before the vote, several board members noted that the relatively large pay increases would not solve all of the district’s current issues overnight.

Like many school systems, MPS is facing painful teacher and staff shortages exacerbated by the pandemic.

COVID contributed to a cratering of the graduation rate in the district down to 75%, a historic low.

Justin Wing, superintendent of human resources, said that the teacher shortage is a long-running problem.

While this year’s pay boost “certainly doesn’t hurt” short-term hiring, he hopes that higher salaries results in a longer-term shift in the pipeline of educators entering the field.

“I know (higher pay) works when people enroll in (teaching) colleges,” Wing said. “$53,000 is a good starting wage and will inspire people to go into the field.” 

Wing said the district is also interested in hiring people who want to change careers and try teaching, and the higher salary might make the math work for people looking for a new line of work.

“I can’t tell you how many people have said to me, ‘I’ve always wanted to be a teacher,’” Wing said.

The district has a Path2Teach program that allows anyone with a bachelor’s

degree to begin teaching while they work on their teaching certificate or master’s degree.

The district has hired 85 to 90 teachers using Path2Teach and the program has been “very helpful,” Wing said.

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