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Tue, Dec. 10

Some districts struggle to make fiscal ends meet

PRESCOTT VALLEY – While most tri-city area teachers already earn less than state and national averages, some local districts are struggling to maintain even that level.

The average 2002-03 teacher's salary for Chino Valley Unified School District (CVUSD) will be $30,310, said Superintendent Linda Nelson. That is about $6,000 below the state average of $36,500 and about $13,000 below the national average, according to the American Federation of Teachers annual survey.

Last year, knowing that their teachers were underpaid, CVUSD increased teachers' base salary – thanks to the expectation of Prop. 301 money – by about 7 percent, to bring it up to $24,500.

This year, that base pay will be $24,635 because of an additional day of school, she said.

"Our starting salaries are somewhat competitive with starting salaries in this area, but not nearly (competitive) with the Valley," she said. "The longer you work and go for years without raises, the less you earn relative to the rest of the profession. It is our upper end of teachers who are earning $1,000 or $2,000 less than other teachers in this area."

That is one of the reasons that CVUSD decided this year to offer a retirement incentive plan to its teachers, she said.

"It is not really an incentive for teachers to retire, but it is an increase in their retirement benefit to try to make up for the years they went without salary (raises)," she said.

Although everyone welcomed the idea of raising teachers' salaries through Prop. 301, the problem for many districts began with the state sales tax revenue shortfall. The state estimated that each school district would receive the Prop. 301 money based on $272.42 per student count for 2001-02 year. That amount has decreased significantly and, based on the state estimates, the districts can expect to receive $239 per student in the upcoming school year.

According to the state law, the districts have to divide the Prop. 301 money among base salary, performance pay and school maintenance and operation, which includes six items.

Many school districts in the state, including CVUSD and the Humboldt Unified School District, applied 20 percent of the Prop. 301 money directly into their salary schedule last year.

Chino Valley, for example, used a large portion of the anticipated money to boost teachers' base salary, Nelson said. Those districts that included a portion of the Prop. 301 money in salary schedules had to dig into maintenance and operation budgets to subsidize the shortfall. Because of that, some districts took out that portion of the Prop. 301 money from their salary schedule this year.

CVUSD, however, decided against doing that because its base teachers' pay was still low, Nelson said.

In addition, about $54,000 will come out of the district's maintenance and operation budget to subsidize the Prop. 301 shortfall, Nelson said.

"Teachers were so underpaid that we couldn't conceive of taking it back," she said.

The average 2001-02 teachers' salary in the Humboldt Unified School District was $34,500, said Ron Minnich, HUSD financial consultant.

Last year, HUSD increased teachers' base pay, which included the 20 percent of the Prop. 301 money, by $2,907 to bring it up to $25,157. The raise increased even more for those teachers who had more experience and more education.

Recently, however, the HUSD board removed that portion of the Prop. 301 money from the teachers' base salary to balance its budget and to avoid further problems in case of another state sales tax revenue shortfall. This was in addition to cutting about 50 teaching positions and freezing all salaries. Now, the starting salary for an HUSD teacher with a college degree and no experience is $24,307.

According to Christine Scott, Humboldt Education Association vice president, although the Prop. 301 money has put more money in teacher's pockets, the HUSD pay scale is still below the state average. The state, however, has to deal with this problem, not the school districts, she said.

"We need a whole cultural shift," she said. "Because we are a service-oriented state and a retirement attraction, you have to look at the mindset that that kind of industry plays. We are very much fighting a cultural mindset. This state has to acknowledge that we are a growing state and that an educational base is number one to attract a business that is worth more than a minimum wage job. The Legislature would have to totally reinvent the school funding system in order to make a difference."

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