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Wed, Oct. 23

School district grants raise, but not all teachers happy

The governing board of the Humboldt Unified School District (HUSD) granted teachers a retroactive salary increase earlier this month. But some of the teachers are not altogether happy about it.

At the March 1 meeting, several teachers spoke to board members about the amount of extra work the district requires of them, the increasing costs of health insurance, and future retirement at less-than-optimal salaries.

Kirk Waddle, HUSD finance director, said the district is evaluating a projected increase for the next year.

"Our teaching staff received a 4.5 percent increase in pay last year," Waddle said. "This fiscal year, the HUSD board already approved a 2.4 percent increase to be paid in the next couple of weeks. Therefore in two fiscal years, our teaching staff has received a 6.9 percent increase in salary. That exceeds the state average."

He added that staff may present another proposal from the teaching staff to the board for an additional 3 percent salary increase to take effect this spring for the next fiscal year in the fall of 2005.

The latest retroactive one-step salary increase recommended by the Meet and Confer Committees totals $413,000.

Both the certified and classified committees requested an advancement of one step on the salary schedule. Certified employees who have "bottomed out" on their respective pay level would receive a one-time payment equal to a one-step adjustment.

Teachers agreed last year to wait until growth numbers in the district could help pay for raises, said Christine Scott, president of the Humboldt Education Association, in an e-mail to the Prescott Valley Tribune.

"This resulted in waiting for the 100-day count in order to verify current-year funding and, thus, retroactive raises," she said.

Scott indicated that because of the increase in student population and trends that district officials hope will continue next year, proposals for salary increases might be in effect at the beginning of the 2005-06 school year. Teachers won't have to wait until after the 100-day count, which takes place in mid-January.

"The teachers that are not happy are just not aware of what's going on," Waddle said.

One point of confusion exists over the extra money the district receives through the Teacher Experience Index.

The TEI uses a formula that takes into account combined years of teachers' experience.

"A school district receives an upward adjustment in its base allowance (amount per student) when the aggregate average years of experience for its staff exceeds the state average," Waddle explained.

"TEI is not related to salary increases," he said. The money goes into the maintenance and operation budget.

The district's projected revision of the 2004-05 TEI revenue is $601,415. The projected revision of the base allowance is $19,096,349.

"These increases then have to fund increases in salary, health insurance, contributions to the Arizona State Retirement System, staffing to keep class sizes down, maintenance, workers' compensation insurance, general liability insurance, utilities, and the cost of new federal and state testing requirements.

"These are the issues management has to consider when managing the entire district," Waddle said.

His top priorities are to find reasonable and comprehensive health insurance, and to open two new schools without hurting all the other schools in the district.

Because of some large medical insurance claims this year, Waddle said the district had a 103 percent loss ratio, not including administrative costs.

"We're looking at a 30-35 percent rate increase," he said at the board meeting. Two health care options are under discussion; bids are still out.

Waddle said another misconception is the $2.2 million "surplus" money available to the district, and noted that "perhaps a better word than 'surplus' is 'reserve money.'

"Next year the district will be opening two new schools, and with salary increases and other operating expenses not related to the new schools, total operating expenses will increase approximately $3.3 million. This increase is being financed by the reserve the district has managed to create through enrollment growth and operating efficiencies," he said.

He added that administrative costs of HUSD are 9.3 percent of total spending, lower than the state average of 9.5 percent and the national average of 10.9 percent.

The rumor that the district is freezing teachers' salaries for the 2005-06 school year came up at the board meeting and was a surprise to board members and administrators.

Board member Gary Marks remarked that that statement came up twice during the public participation segment of the meeting, and "it's news to me."

Phil Young, HUSD director of human resources, commented that the budget was tight, but a salary freeze was news to him, too.

Teachers and students are the backbone of a school district, Waddle noted.

"District finances are much more complex than you will be led to believe from the non-managerial personnel concerned with only salary increases," he said. "We have responsibility to the taxpayer to mange the entire budget."

Sue Tone is a reporter for the Prescott Valley Tribune

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