Teachers in Tucson’s largest school district shouldn’t expect a 9 percent raise next year, even though the governor promised it and the state Legislature allocated enough for the district to cover it.
Instead, Tucson Unified School District Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo said he expects to spread that money around to all “educators” who touch the lives of children — even the janitors.
“I see us supporting the educators as defined by this movement, those that are touching the lives of kids and working directly with kids. It’s about the monitors, it’s about teachers, it’s about the counselors, it’s about the custodians, it’s about the secretaries at our schools, it’s about the office assistants,” he said.
The Legislature passed and Gov. Doug Ducey signed a budget that includes an additional $272 million for teacher raises, or roughly enough to give all certified “teachers” in the state a 9 percent pay increase. They also allocated another $100 million for capital needs — traditionally things like buses, computers and textbooks — but which the governor sold as also available to increase salaries for support staff workers who aren’t “teachers” but are “educators.”
But the budget includes no guarantees that the money for teacher raises will go to teacher raises — that is up to each individual school district to decide.
Daniel Scarpinato, spokesman to Ducey, said that’s not what the Legislature or governor intended when they approved the budget.
“The governor and really Arizonans championed a pay raise for teachers, and school districts should deliver it as money is appropriated,” he said.
And while a school district budget is ultimately up to a vote from the district’s governing board, the superintendent crafts the budget with input from employee associations and asks the board for approval.
TUSD Governing Board President Mark Stegeman said while he still wants to hear Trujillo’s proposal in detail as well as his fellow board members’ reactions, his initial reaction is that the priority should be increasing teacher pay.
“That’s where our vacancies are,” he said.
Board member Adelita Grijalva said she wants to ensure that teachers know the budget approved by lawmakers isn’t as simple as a 9 percent raise. For one thing, it’s based on student enrollment, which is likely to fall. But in theory, she agrees that the money for raises should apply to a broader definition of teacher.
“My concern in having it be for just teachers, is we had overwhelming support (for the walkouts) from every employee group. There were custodians that didn’t come to work, we had bus drivers that didn’t come to work. Everyone was united in trying to get more funds for education.”
Trujillo said he’s just starting conversations with the Tucson Education Association and doesn’t know how much of the $11 million TUSD is expected to be allocated will go toward raises for certified teachers versus other educators. But his guiding principle in making recommendations about what to do with the additional funding for teacher raises will be raising salaries of “educators,” rather than “teachers,” he said.
“I don’t think you’re going to see me recommend a scenario that would say ‘take every single bit of funding that we’re receiving and throw it at the salaries of one employee group, or one particular position.’ I don’t think that’s consistent with the message of the movement,” he said, adding that he doesn’t expect teachers, through their employee association, to ask for that.
Jason Freed, president of the Tucson Education Association, said he agreed all educators, and all employees, should receive raises in the next school year, even if that means teachers wont receive that full 9 percent. And the 9 percent is a “fallacy that the governor is pushing.”
He said by narrowly defining who is a teacher, lawmakers set up a system where many people who are considered teachers in most settings won’t receive funding for a pay raise.
“It would be fair to say #RedForEd and Arizona Educators United is in support for all educators. So it’s a priority for TEA that all educators see raises for next school year. What that would look like exactly, I can’t say,” he said, noting negotiations with the district are ongoing.
Scarpinato acknowledged that by putting the money into the per-pupil base funding, lawmakers and the governor gave up some ability to control how it’s spent. But he noted that lawmakers included an “intent clause” stating the money should be used to increase pay for instructional teachers.
“The budget has language directing that the dollars be used for teacher raises. And it’s our expectation that that’s what they’re used for,” he said.
Trujillo said he will recommend keeping separate the district’s estimated $11 million for teacher raises, and the estimated $4 million it will receive for capital needs.
Although the district could use that $4 million that’s earmarked for capital improvements to boost salaries of support staff workers and other “educators” who are not teachers, Trujillo said his teachers and employees understand that the district needs to use that money for capital improvements like new AC systems, patched roofs and new school buses.
“The message has been clear throughout the #RedForEd movement. ... This isn’t just about paying me as the teacher. I want to go into a classroom where that AC works. I want to go into a classroom where we have textbooks that take us past the Reagan administration. I want to go into a classroom where the Wi-Fi works. I want to go into a staff lounge where the faucet works. I want my monitors who have my back to have a livable wage. I want the librarian to have a livable wage,” he said.
But $4 million won’t go very far toward solving the district’s massive infrastructure needs, Trujillo said.
To put that in perspective, the district in November asked voters to approve a $180 million bond to pay for new school buses, which the district said was the bare minimum it would need to cover capital repairs and improvements. Pima County voters rejected that proposal, along with several other school district bonds and overrides.
New school buses are about $115,000 each, Trujillo said, and the district needs 30 of them to ensure all kids have air conditioning on their drive to school. Air conditioning units in schools, many of which need to be replaced, can cost upward of $250,000 he noted.
“It’s extra money that we weren’t counting on that we’ll gladly take and it will help us. But it’s sort of a drop in the pond of all the deferred-maintenance needs,” he said.
Contact reporter Hank Stephenson at email@example.com or 573-4279. On Twitter: @hankdeanlight