The action came at its April 13 brief board business meeting following a work-study session on the proposed fiscal year 2021-22 budget, which shows an $8.24 million reduction in maintenance and operations, and a little over two weeks after the district laid off 152 teachers.
Superintendent Shane McCord said the action was necessary to stay competitive with increases in neighboring districts. Higley USD, which also serves the Gilbert area, is giving its employees a 5% raise next year, but its maintenance and operations budget is growing next year.
Board members expressed support of keeping salaries growing, noting it took years to catch back up after the Great Recession caused layoffs and salary freezes.
“Once we slide back, it’s really hard to recover,” Board Member Jill Humpherys said.
Board Member Reed Carr said he knows how it looks to some when the board approves such salary increases in the wake of a reduction in force, or RIF, and he had Business Services Assistant Superintendent Bonnie Betz explain how this RIF was different than the one after the Great Recession.
Betz said the previous RIF was brought on by a sharp drop in state funding per student at the time when the district was reaching peak enrollment. This one, however, came because of a large loss of enrollment due to the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent need to “right-size” the district.
While the raises for next year were included in the FY 2021-22 projections, the stipends will be paid for from the third round of federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER, funding, approved by Congress in March.
Betz said the district does not know what its allocation from ESSER III will be, but the district anticipates it will be at least as much as the second round, from which GPS received $9.7 million, and could be as much as $20 million.
Betz said the district did not have the money to assure sustaining a 5% raise, but that the use of one-time monies for a one-year stipend would allow the district to stay competitive this year.
Congress required that 20% of the money be used to address learning loss from the pandemic, but the remainder will be enough to pay for the $6.7 million required to give the employees a 3% stipend. The stipend will be paid half in December 2021 and half in June 2022, Betz said.
The board and district officials also noted that ESSER II funds had saved the district from drastic measures affecting employees, possibly including midyear RIFs, salary reductions or furloughs.
“If some of this money hadn’t come through ... we would have had to make some very difficult decisions regarding our employees,” Superintendent Shane McCord said. “Thankfully we didn’t have to do that smack dab in the middle of a pandemic.”
The board also approved an inflationary increase, expected to be 1.23%, to the starting salaries for new hires, except minimum-wage employees, who will receive an inflationary increase to their hourly rate in January 2022.
Proposed FY 2021-22 budget
With more money coming available from the state’s classroom site fund—money that comes from a sales tax originally approved through Proposition 301 in November 2000—Betz presented a new proposed FY 2021-22 budget.
The revision brings next year’s proposed maintenance and operations, or M&O, budget to $252.26 million, which Betz said is $8.24 million less than what the next revision of this year’s M&O will show at $260.5 million. That current revision should go before the board for approval in May while next year’s budget will be adopted in June.
The first projection in March showed next year’s M&O budget at $250.3 million at a time when the board had just approved a revision the current M&O budget of $260.52 million, meaning a $10.22 million reduction.
The unrestricted capital budget is expected to grow $380,000 from $16.74 million to $17.12 million, Betz said.
- The governing board unanimously approved a buyback of accrued medical days for those staff members affected by the RIF but who otherwise would be ineligible to receive such a buyback. The requirements under the memorandum of understanding between the district and the Gilbert Education Association include five years of service in the district, at least 25 unused medical days accrued and that the employee complete the current contractual year in GPS.
- The board also unanimously approved suspending employees’ formal performance evaluations for the year, though Talent Acquisition Assistant Superintendent Shawn McIntosh said most principals likely would still want to sit down with employees to offer feedback and coaching.