Kyrene teachers are one step closer to receiving a much anticipated pay raise this year, thanks to the district Governing Board’s agreement to strike a salary freeze off the list of budget balancing strategies.
The decision is in keeping with “Blueprint for Kyrene,” the district’s current strategic plan that is based heavily on community input.
“Within Kyrene’s blueprint for success is a goal to attract and retain employees,” said Jeremy Calles, the district’s chief financial officer.
“Our budget decisions are measured against the blueprint, and it was determined that freezing salaries would be counter-productive toward attracting and retaining employees,” said Calles.
As for the remaining budget balancing strategies needed to correct an expected shortfall of $8.9 million this fiscal year, three out of the 10 possibilities under consideration have been removed from the list, explained Calles.
Besides the salary freeze, the board voted no to increasing class size and reducing students’ programs.
“While the final decision always rests with the Governing Board, we use a ‘One Team’ approach to determine what is best for Kyrene,” Calles said.
The team includes groups made up of teachers, support staff, administrators, parents, community members and the Governing Board, according to Calles. “We work closely with our committees and, based on those conversations, we bring recommendations forward.”
The remaining strategies on the budget-balancing list include a lease/purchase agreement for the district’s administrative office and the sale of a parcel of land, known as the Club West Property, for homebuilding. Both strategies will be discussed at a board meeting on April 23, along with other alternatives.
“Obviously, when you are making budget cuts, you are going to need to make tough decisions,” said Calles.
“However, we have worked diligently to find strategies on how to balance the budget, while respecting what the ‘One Team’ values.”
Teachers’ annual contracts also go to the Governing Board on April 23, with a recommended two-percent increase for fiscal 2013-14. The raise would be the first pay adjustment in several years.
“If approved, the salary increase is a part of the ($8.9 million) deficit. This deficit will be satisfied by our list of strategies, which includes a possible use of the district’s reserves,” said Calles.
Closing the deficit is partially tied to being able to sell bonds and, on this front, the district is caught in a waiting game with the state legislature. Kyrene teachers’ contracts still would contain language stating that any pay increase is contingent upon passage of the bond language legislation.
“Kyrene can only sell bonds if legislation is passed that addresses the fact that local property values have declined significantly—in fact, almost in half—since 2009. This legislation would be effective 90 days after the governor signs it, so the earliest we could sell, under the most optimistic scenario, would be August,” said Calles.
“This is the third year in a row that the state has reviewed this issue, and I would say that there is a 55 percent chance that they will finally get it addressed,” he said.
While other school districts in the Valley also face cuts, Kyrene steadfastly follows its Blue Print, which was developed based on on-going community input, says Calles.
“We include the opinions of the Kyrene Community Alliance, which consists of business and other community members; the Parent Superintendent Council, which is mostly parents; and the K-8 Committee, which includes teachers, administrators and parents,” said Calles.
Staff also attend the Ahwatukee and Chandler chamber of commerce meetings and have worked closely with Valley Interfaith Project.
In an effort to remain accessible to the community, Kyrene airs board meetings on-line and then posts them to YouTube. “We strive to be accessible because at Kyrene we value every opinion and welcome every perspective,” said Calles.
For more information about Kyrene’s Blueprint, visit www.kyrene.org