Few words pique a crowd’s interest like money, which is why a discussion on teachers’ compensation sounded interesting. However, what at first seemed promising during a Kyrene School Board meeting ended much differently, with teachers disconcerted to hear that an existing freeze on salaries likely will continue. Their predictable despair is compounded by a complex methodology used to determine pay ranges, a formula that is quite different from private industry, where performance is usually the measure of dollars earned.
The discussion, part of a study session on Feb. 26, was in response to an earlier inquiry by Board Member Ross Robb, who also was curious about the variables used in compensation decisions. Mark Knight, the district’s executive director of human resources, and Jeremy Calles, its chief financial officer, made the presentation to explain their analysis methods and to compare the district’s data with that of 11 others, which are considered to be Kyrene’s “competitor school districts,” according to Superintendent Dr. David Schauer.
After hearing the details of the presentation that ranked all of the “competitor” districts, Robb summarized the discussion by saying it appears that a teacher’s rate of pay is impacted by three significant issues:
• Class size — School districts with more students per class can afford to increase teacher’s pay. Kyrene’s student-to-teacher ratio, of 17.48, ranks near the middle of the districts, with nearby Tempe Union at 18.92 and Mesa Unified at 20.31. At the top and the bottom of this comparison are Phoenix districts Madison Elementary, with a studentto- teacher ratio of 21.13, and Cartwright Elementary, at 15.74.
• Programs offered — More class choices require more staff, which leaves
less money for salaries. For now, Kyrene took program changes off the chopping block and still
offers special-area subjects, including art, music, library and physical education. Other districts have completely eliminated such electives.
Kyrene excels for the most money spent in the classroom, a ratio called highest total of instruction to administration. Kyrene also is at the top of this comparison, at 12.02. The nearest competitor is Chandler Unified, at 11.51; at the bottom of the ranking is J.O. Combs Unified in San Tan Valley, at 6.55.
• Additional funding mechanisms — School districts that receive alternative sources of funding, such as money allocated as a result of Civil Rights Act violations in 1964, may use these funds for teachers’ salaries. Those districts are required to assess an additional charge in their property-tax valuation, an encumbrance not affecting Kyrene, mainly because it wasn’t yet established in those days.
There was no end date established for the desegregation penalty, and Calles says that since some school districts are benefiting from those funds, no change is likely to occur. “Nearby school districts, including Tempe Elementary and Phoenix Union, receive $9 million to $10 million a year, which can partially be used to fund teachers,” said Calles. “So the desegregation funding does create some disparity within our 12- school comparison, as six of the school districts still assess this fee.”
In spite of not having this funding source, Kyrene remains competitive in pay for new teachers, who start at $34,982, which falls to sixth in the list of 12 districts. While new teachers start out strong, HR Director Knight admits that Kyrene is not as successful in rewarding more experienced teachers. He also said that another disappointing finding is that new teachers with experience coming into the Kyrene district receive credit for only 4 years of previous teaching experience no matter how many years they have previously taught. Other districts reward 8-10 years. Mesa is the most generous by acknowledging total years of teaching experience, no matter where achieved.
In closing the meeting, no definite decisions were made on increasing pay for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1, to give the Governing Board the ability to remain flexible while budget decisions are finalized at the state Legislature. Editors Note: Like all board meetings and study sessions, this meeting can be re-played at any time by going to www.kyrene.org and selecting Governing Board meeting.
By: Diana Whittle