With the blessing of district teachers, the Gilbert Public Schools governing board passed a pay raise March 26 of 4.5 percent for teachers and 3 percent for administrators and staff for the 2019-20 school year.
The pay raise falls short of Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s 5 percent proposal for teachers next year. However, the district’s interest-based bargaining team endorsed the proposal so that staff members and administrators not covered by the governor’s plan could get higher raises. That bargaining team included representatives for teachers and staff.
The governing board passed the raise on a 5-0 vote.
The alternative was a 5 percent raise for teachers with a 2 percent increase for staff and administrators. Those raises would be in line with the governor’s proposal.
“Bottom line, we won’t get a 5 percent raise this year because that’s not the way it was funded by the state,” said Gilbert Education Association President Diane Drazinski, a Mesquite High School chemistry teacher. “And because we support the notion that it takes a village [to raise a child], we know that all the staff, not just the governor’s definition of a teacher, deserve a raise.”
Ducey’s plan, set forth last year in the wake of the #RedForEd teacher walkout, called for a 20 percent pay raise over three years. Earlier in 2018, Ducey had proposed a 1 percent raise for teachers for this school year.
The “20 by ‘20” plan called for an additional 9 percent for this school year, and then 5 percent raises for the next two school years.
However, the percentages for those raises were based on the average teacher salaries across the state at the time. Additionally, the raises were not compounded year over year, but as a flat percentage from the base average salary.
Additionally, Ducey’s proposal only covers classroom teachers. Gilbert Public Schools has 94 additional certified staff, such as counselors and academic coaches, that it also considers teachers, Business Services Assistant Superintendent Bonnie Betz said. The district covers raises for those workers the same way it does classroom teachers, she said.
Furthermore, Gilbert Public Schools’ teacher salaries were higher than the state average at the time the base was set. That came from the 2016-17 school year salary information, officials said.
For all those reasons, GPS does not expect to be allotted enough money to fund 5 percent raises to all teachers for the coming school year, Betz said.
Closing budget gap
In fact, with mandatory spending increases, such as on Arizona State Retirement System payments; recommended increases to meet district goals, such as adding an International Baccalaureate program at Gilbert High School; and the salary increases, the district faces more than a $7 million gap between expected funding and its budget, Betz said.
As a result, the district will use some on-going and one-time “mitigating strategies” to balance the budget, Betz said.
Board President Reed Carr said the district is in a hard place between being short the money for the raises but needing to remain competitive in salaries. He noted the transfer of restored District Additional Assistance dollars, earmarked for capital project, into the maintenance and operations budget to cover salaries.
“That will catch up with us at some point,” Carr said. “We don’t have those funds to transfer. We cannot sustain the raises for everybody at a percentage higher than the dollars we receive. Nevertheless, we recognize that we also have competitive market forces that force our hand. We are competing with the districts around us and the districts throughout the state who are doing this, and in some cases doing it even to a larger extent than we are. We can’t not act and lose our best employees to those who are doing more.”
Carr also praised the bargaining team for the way it conducted itself.
“It’s not easy being selected to represent your peer group and then to come in and say, ‘well, we know that district proposal that the admin put together is one thing, but we’re willing to take less so that others can have more,’” he said. “I think that speaks very highly of the type of person that works in this district, and we appreciate that our employees look out for each other.”
However, district employees also will be facing an increase in employee benefits contributions.
While the district will absorb the brunt of benefit increases, employees can expect to see their contributions increase 7.5 to 7.6 percent, according to district documents.
The board also approved those benefit packages by a 5-0 vote.
Jennifer Shields of auditor group Heinfield, Meech & Co. also reported to the board that the district’s 2017-18 annual financial report will be reported as clean, or unmodified, under the annual audit.
However, Shields said the audit will have three individual findings, two of which it considers significant deficiencies that the board and district management must address with corrective actions. Those items are in payroll and compensated absences.
Shields said the district also has had a material weakness in its cash reconciliation process. However, she praised the work of members of the finance office in cleaning up that process. She said it often takes several cycles to successfully do so.
Shields told the board the auditors had no difficulties in working with the district on the audit.
Auditors also noted improvements in areas that include cash and revenues, expenditures, information technology and student attendance.