The Arizona Auditor General’s Office released its annual School District Spending analysis last week, which showed that most school districts throughout the state and in Pima County failed to achieve Gov. Doug Ducey’s 2018 plan to increase teacher pay by 20% by the 2020-2021 school year.
The Tucson Unified School District, the largest in Pima County, showed the lowest teacher pay increase in the county with a 3.6% increase over the past four years, according to the state report.
But information provided by TUSD’s Executive Director of Finance Renee Weatherless showed that the average teacher salary increase over the last four years was a much higher total of 18.4%.
“It’s a relative report,” Weatherless said of the Auditor General’s spending analysis. “But to take that and measure a separate initiative with it isn’t really apples to apples because we can show our salary schedule did, in fact, increase by that percentage.”
According to the data provided by TUSD, the district had a starting salary of $35,700 for new teachers and a base salary of up to $45,200 for teachers with more years of experience during the 2016-2017 fiscal year, the base for the 20x2020 plan.
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Those base salaries were then increased by an increment of $700 in Fiscal Year 2018; $3,800 in Fiscal Year 2019; and $1,500 each in Fiscal Years 2020 and 2021.
That salary schedule meant that TUSD teachers saw between a 16.6% and 21% increase to their salaries over that four-year period. According to Weatherless, that brought the district’s overall average teacher pay to an 18.4% increase.
“That’s all because we gave a flat dollar (increase), as opposed to percentages,” Weatherless said of the difference in increases for each salary schedule based on the teachers’ experience.
She added that the state’s spending report might reflect a lower average increase because it does not take into account certain factors that affect the district’s average teacher salary increases, such as teachers who were hired or retired in the middle of the school year.
“We do hire a lot of teachers late in the school year. Their average salary should be $40,000 and some, but we only pay $30,000-something because they started late,” Weatherless said, adding: “If from one year to the next, you retire all your highly paid teachers, that Auditor General report is just automatically going to go down.”
Vicki Hanson, the director of the Division of School Audits at the Arizona Auditor General’s Office, said that the report was completed by taking each district’s total expenditures for teacher salaries in its accounting records divided by the district’s total number of teachers.
“Additionally, we send these numbers to the districts for confirmation before we issue our analysis. Therefore, they should be accurate if the district accurately reported its information,” Hanson said in an email.
The Catalina Foothills and Tanque Verde Unified school districts were the only two in Pima County that achieved the 20x2020 promise, according to the Auditor General’s report, with 31.5% and 20.3% increases, respectively.
The teacher pay increases at other Pima County Districts ranged from 3.6% at TUSD to 18.5% at the Sahuarita Unified School District.
School districts throughout Arizona received additional funds based on student enrollment to help fulfill the 20x2020 promise, though districts were not required to use that money toward teacher pay and could instead use it for other areas of its budget.
Weatherless said that the district had not received the amount of money needed to fulfill the 20x2020 initiative.
“To do that calculation of the base year, we would have needed an incremental $20 million,” Weatherless said. “And we have not received $20 million for different reasons. We have a pandemic and lost enrollment, so there’s that piece of the picture as well.”
Overall, TUSD says, the state allocated just under $24,600,000 to the district for the 20x2020 plan. TUSD paid out more than $27,600,000 in teacher raises, the district said.
Contact reporter Genesis Lara at firstname.lastname@example.org