Higley USD proposes 5% employee salary increase to board

Higley USD governing board
The Higley USD board met for the first time Jan. 20 since new members were installed. From left are: Michelle Anderson, President Kristina Reese, Amy Kaylor, Tiffany Shultz and Vice President Jill Wilson. Anderson and Shultz are new to the board. (Screen shot from YouTube)

The Higley USD board met for the first time Jan. 20 since new members were installed. From left are: Michelle Anderson, President Kristina Reese, Amy Kaylor, Tiffany Shultz and Vice President Jill Wilson. Anderson and Shultz are new to the board. (Screen shot from YouTube)

Higley USD staff is giving an early recommendation to the governing board that the district increase employee salaries 5% in fiscal year 2021-22, despite the coronavirus pandemic.

In fact, district officials, in making initial projections on their FY 2021-22 maintenance and operations budget, believe the district is in a strong position to absorb such an increase. But because the recommendation was part of an informational item on the agenda, the board took no action on it.

The district anticipates losing about 150 students in average daily membership—the total enrollment of fractional students and full-time students, minus withdrawals, of each school day through the first 100 days in session—a key number in Arizona’s education funding formula, HUSD Finance Director Tyler Moore said.

But the loss sustained there and with fewer online-only students, who are funded at 95% of in-person students, than surrounding competitor districts, HUSD’s losses are not as great as other districts, Associate Superintendent Dawn Foley said.

Furthermore, base funding adjustments, COVID-19 relief funding and carrying forward some unspent money in the budget more than offset the losses, Moore said. The district’s presentation showed a general budget limit increase of $7.78 million to $103.61 million for next fiscal year.

A 5% increase across the board would cost the district $3.53 million, according to the presentation, which also showed the district expects some fixed costs, like insurance increases, to go up $1.6 million.

Foley and Jeff Gadd, acting chief financial officer, and Mum Martens, human resources executive director, told the board with other districts facing revenue losses, the district’s projected revenue for next fiscal year give it an opportunity for better employee retention and offering more competitive salaries.

In other items:

  • The board elected Kristina Reese as its president, replacing Amy Kaylor. Reese has served as board president several times previously, most recently in 2019, and was vice president in the past year. Jill Wilson was elected vice president.

  • The board approved paid sick leave benefits due to the COVID-19 pandemic that will apply from Jan. 1-June 30. The district will pay for up to 80 hours of paid sick leave provided the employee with a confirmed positive case of COVID-19 has not already exhausted emergency paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave under the Families First Coronavirus Recovery Act during 2020. That act expired Dec. 31. The administration recommended the board consider this benefit because it would provide the district with increased ability to manage outbreaks and would assist in maintaining the workforce to meet student needs.

  • The board approved the purchase of cubicles and carpet as part of the district office refurbishment at a cost of $197,488.24.

  • The board approved tiered seating, office furniture, athletic lockers and training room furniture at a cost of $361,343.43 for the athletic center under construction at Williams Field High School. Reese, as she has done previously, pushed district officials about whether the board should expect any additional spending from the center’s construction.

  • The special education department is on track to spend $1.85 million for special education day school placements, which is more than $650,000 less than the governing board approved Aug. 26, according to a presentation to the board. The number of private day school placements will increase over the 2020-21 school year, but remaining within the budgeted amount should not be an issue. The assignments are considered for children with highly specialized needs that the district cannot reasonably provide.

  • As of the end of second quarter, the district has spent $314,191.33 with a remaining balance in the budget of $948,569.08 for substitute teachers, phased retirement teachers and rescue substitute teachers, Human Resources Executive Director Mum Martens told the board.

  • Competition has started for winter high school sports, and the district’s teams are following Arizona Interscholastic Association protocols, including masks being worn even in competition and spectators limited to two tickets for a player’s parents or guardians only, said David Loutzenheiser, the district’s secondary education and athletics executive director.

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.