Facing political pressure from above and below, Tucson’s largest school district is cutting back on proposed school safety and facilities upgrades to ensure all new money from the state budget goes directly into the pockets of teachers and support staff workers.
The Tucson Unified School District Governing Board voted Tuesday to spend more than $15 million on salary increases for all employees, with teachers and certified staff workers receiving a flat $3,000 raise, and all other employees earning an increase of between 2 and 4 percent. The vote was 3-2 with board members Mark Stegeman and Rachael Sedgwick dissenting.
The plan spends every penny the district expects to receive from the state, and $200,000 more.
But TUSD Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo said Tuesday that he’s worried that the push to put every cent of new money, and then some, into salary increases will hurt the district’s ability to increase school safety and maintain its outdated and crumbling infrastructure.
“I want to be very clear with the community: This leaves us with absolutely a zero balance to handle anything with deferred maintenance, anything with transportation, anything with technology,” he said.
But it’s not just the ability to repair caving roofs, buy buses with air conditioning and replacing outdated and broken laptops that will go by the wayside as the district attempts to put all new money into salaries.
School safety will also suffer, he said.
“With the ... focus on making sure all of our money will be put into salaries, I have concerns in these three areas (of crisis readiness, student support services and security infrastructure),” he said, adding, “I remain concerned about our ability to really aggressively act in the area of school safety.”
Trujillo originally planned to keep separate the two pots of money the Legislature increased in this year’s budget.
He wanted to use the $3.9 million in new District Additional Assistance for school safety and repair projects. And he wanted to use the increased Basic State Aid of $11.3 million to raise salaries across the board, not just for teachers.
But Trujillo caught flak from Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, who personally called him out for not using the estimated $11.3 million in Basic State Aid to increase salaries of just “teachers,” as the Legislature specifically said it intended.
He also got pushback from his own school board.
Stegeman argued that even if the legislative intent isn’t legally binding, the district would face political payback if it doesn’t follow the intent.
“If we don’t take that $11.3 (million) and follow legislative intent and put that into teacher salaries, we’re putting ourselves in a bad place which can jeopardize anything else we want to do. There are people in the Legislature who will interpret that as war,” he said.
Board members struggled with the question of what #RedForEd actually accomplished and what portion of the new state funding was a direct result of the movement — and therefore should be put into salaries.
Trujillo noted that the district’s share of the $100 million District Additional Assistance money was promised before the #RedForEd movement started, and that estimated $3.9 million had already been allocated for new projects to increase school safety.
Only after #RedForEd pressured Ducey to propose new money for teachers’ salaries, but left out other educators, did the conversation change to District Additional Assistance money being available for staff raises rather than capital needs.
The money had been earmarked for new counselors and social workers as part of the district’s attempts to rein in discipline problems by providing more drug- and alcohol-awareness training, conflict mediation and support groups for troubled students. The District Additional Assistance money had also already been earmarked for school fencing, replacing old buses that don’t have air conditioning, repairing schools and buying new computers.
But the board decided to scrap those plans to pay for more raises.
Trujillo blamed the cuts on the governor’s shifting rhetoric about what District Additional Assistance should be used for and said he’ll carry out the board’s adopted policy.
But he is concerned that ignoring the other needs will come back to haunt the district.
“I still feel very fervently that this district has severe capital technology, transportation and deferred-maintenance needs that need to be taken care of,” he said.
MARANA SCHOOL DISTRICT
Marana Unified School District spent nearly all of its $5.6 million from increased Basic State Aid, inflation and District Additional Assistance on raises for its staff. The district gave teachers and support staff workers a 10 percent raise on their base salaries.
The district total average teacher pay is nearly $46,000, according to the Auditor General’s Office, but that figure includes funds besides the base salary, such as performance pay, and includes all other work a teacher does, such as coaching the baseball team on the side.
Dan Contorno, chief financial officer at Marana Unified, said the average teacher base salary is roughly $36,000, meaning the average teacher would see an increase of about $3,600.
The district also utilized its District Additional Assistance to give administrators, managers, facilitators, nurses, social workers and behavioral specialists a 9 percent increase in their base pay.
Of the $1.2 million in additional District Additional Assistance funding, the district put aside only $100,000 as a cushion in preparation for the inevitable air conditioner or copy machine replacement, Contorno said.
VAIL SCHOOL DISTRICT
The Vail School District also gave teachers a 10 percent raise in their base salary, using a broad definition of teachers that included art, music and physical education teachers and behavioral specialists and coordinators.
However, the estimated $3.6 million the state provided for teacher raises was for a more narrow definition of a teacher, so the district had to utilize formula increases in other areas to cover a 10 percent increase for all “teachers” under the district’s broader definition.
And like Marana, Vail’s 10 percent increase is based on the “base salary” — the amount specified in teacher contracts — not teachers’ total compensation.
Superintendent Calvin Baker said the average returning teacher will see $4,200 increase.
Last year, the Auditor General’s Office put the district’s average total teacher pay, including all sources, at just below $39,000.
The plan approved by the district Governing Board also utilized much of its $1.4 million increase in District Additional Assistance to give raises of at least 4 percent to all other employees. That leaves only $500,000 for capital needs, which Baker called a “deep concern.”
SUNNYSIDE SCHOOL DISTRICT
Sunnyside Unified School District spent its estimated $4.2 million in Basic State Aid to give teachers and all certified staff workers, including librarians, art teachers, and counselors, a 10 percent increase in their base salary.
That will mean an increase of about $3,000 for a first-year teacher, or a $5,500 increase for teachers entering their 30th year on the job.
The district split its $1.5 million in District Additional Assistance money down the middle, giving half to noncertified staff workers for salary increases and setting aside another $750,000 for capital needs.
Noncertified staff workers, like custodians, teacher assistants and bus drivers, will see a boost of 5 percent from the District Additional Assistance,but will also see a 2 percent increase in January from a different funding source.
Professional nonteachers, such as instructional coaches, social workers and administrators, were already slated to receive a 2 percent increase, but the district utilized additional inflation funds to provide a one-time 1 percent increase, bringing the total increase for those employees to 3 percent.
Several other Tucson-area school districts have not yet approved plans for the additional funding.