The TUSD Governing Board unanimously voted to spend $1 million on salary adjustments to a targeted group of longtime teachers whose pay has stagnated.
The teachers, who have been with Tucson Unified School District for a significant number of years, have become victims of salary compression. While raises for current teachers have been limited by annual budget cuts, new hires often come in at higher pay.
How many teachers, which ones and how much they could receive will be determined following an analysis to identify what teachers are being paid and how close they are in pay to others, newly-seated TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez said.
The phenomenon, which is widespread across many organizations, has made it difficult for TUSD to retain teachers, said Dan Ireland, vice president of the Tucson Education Association.
"Have there been teachers who have left because they're frustrated by their pay? Yes," Ireland said. "It has had a negative impact on our ability to retain teachers within the first five to 15 years of their career because they make marginally less."
Ireland is familiar with the situation, having been with TUSD for nine years but earning what a second-year teacher would because the district discontinued a practice that allowed teachers to move up a step on the salary scale annually.
Now, a teacher hired from outside of the district with the same amount of experience would rank higher on the salary scale because their years of teaching would be taken into consideration, he said.
"We'd like to see the salary compression issue fixed," Ireland said. "Anything will help."
Sanchez, who just started last week, agrees something must be done but acknowledges the $1 million investment will only go so far.
"It won't fix everything, but it's a start," he said. "It's my opinion that there should be separation in pay between the first- and the fifth-year teachers, and the fifth- and the 10th-year teachers.
"We have to honor those people who have committed their time of service to TUSD," he said.
The money for the salary adjustments will come from $4.2 million in increased funding from the state. The increase is technically a restoration of inflation funds the state was supposed to have been providing. The funds were restored after a court ruled lawmakers were violating a 2000 voter-approved law that requires inflation adjustments.
"I think people acknowledge that teachers are raising a fair point here," said Governing Board Member Mark Stegeman.
In addition to the salary adjustments, TUSD plans to use $500,000 of the inflation funds to restore custodial and preventative maintenance services - to an extent.
The two areas suffered major cuts this spring while the district worked to resolve a $17 million deficit. The preventative maintenance shop was eliminated entirely while custodial services took a $2 million cut, reducing about 57 positions.
At the time, blue-collar workers pleaded with the Governing Board to reconsider, saying children and schools would suffer. The Governing Board promised to restore services as much as possible should additional funding become available.
"The safety of our facilities is important, and these funds will be allocated for such purpose," Sanchez said.
However, exactly what services will be restored will also take some time to determine.
Sanchez has ordered studies on how to spend the additional money allocated to custodial and preventative maintenance - possibly to hire employees or to invest in services that will assist with future upkeep.
"It's a matter of what industry standards are and how we measure up," Sanchez said. "We want to be the best and take care of our people the best, but we have to approach the industry standard first, and then we'll work on exceeding it."
Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at email@example.com or 573-4175.