Salaries on all levels remain topic of concern in town school districts

Gilbert Public Schools, Higley USD, Chandler USD
Average teacher salaries this school year in the three public school districts that serve Gilbert (Sources: Gilbert Public Schools, Higley USD, Chandler USD).

Average teacher salaries this school year in the three public school districts that serve Gilbert (Sources: Gilbert Public Schools, Higley USD, Chandler USD).

Salaries on all job levels remain in the forefront of public school educational concerns in 2020.

Teachers' salaries in particular continue to be scrutinized as Arizona enters the final year of Gov. Doug Ducey’s proposed “20 by ‘20” three-year program to raise teacher salaries 20% from 2016-17 levels.

That program, which came after a 2018 teacher walkout during that year’s legislative session, was to give districts an additional 10% for salaries in 2018-19, 5% in 2019-20 and 5% in 2020-21, based on the state’s median salary for teachers from 2016-17.

All three of the school districts that serve Gilbert—Gilbert Public Schools, Higley USD and Chandler USD—have median teacher salaries that are above the state’s median salaries and have had to find additional budget money to give raises at or near 5%.

“Although we’ll be monitoring and making sure the governor’s distributing that money, it’s still not going to cover for everything,” said Mum Martens, HUSD human resources executive director. “So we will have to strategically look at that total dollar amount and how we handle that across the district.”

The three districts participated in an eight-district salary study in 2019 that has had them evaluating salary schedules from administrators to classified staff.

For the Gilbert and Higley districts, the study found the districts generally pay below-median salaries and wages. Compounding the problem on the classified staff level is Arizona Proposition 206, which has raised the minimum wage in stepladder fashion from $8.05 in 2016, when the proposition passed, to $12 per hour starting Jan. 1.

Between the minimum wage increases and salary freezes earlier in the decade, the districts have faced the problem of salary compression, where newly hired staff makes nearly the same wage as more tenured workers, or less skilled workers’ hourly wages are pushed to a level near those with more skills required.

HUSD adjusted its salary schedule last fall to address the issue, Martens said. Gilbert Public Schools acknowledged the salary compression issue in a statement, saying, “As a district, we continue to work diligently to address this issue in a fair and equitable manner.”

CUSD, with higher pay overall, used the study to restructure salaries for employees who are not administrators or teachers, Community Relations Director Terry Locke said.

GPS administrator salaries are in the 47th percentile among comparable districts, according to the study. HUSD will bring to its board in late January or early February a salary schedule proposal that would bring administrators and educational professionals, such as psychologists or occupational therapists, up to the 45th-50th percentile, Martens said.

Other stories to watch:

New CUSD school

Anticipating growth in the Val Vista Drive corridor—largely the district’s Gilbert portion—Chandler USD is constructing a new elementary school there. The school will be named at a Jan. 22 board meeting. Boundaries will be drawn this spring with construction being completed in July. The school is taking on the students from Weinberg Elementary School, which is being converted into a gifted education academy.

School safety grants

In 2019, the Arizona Legislature passed a budget that included $20 million to fund school grants for resource officers, counselors and social workers. However, after receiving applications from schools, the department of education has indicated the need is closer to $100 million. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey is proposing an additional $38 million in his budget.
By Tom Blodgett

Editor, Gilbert

Raised in Arizona, Tom Blodgett has spent more than 30 years in journalism in Arizona and joined Community Impact Newspaper in July 2018 to launch the Gilbert edition. He is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he served as an instructional professional in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication from 2005-19 and remains editorial adviser to The State Press, the university's independent student media outlet.