Unification means higher pay for some teachers

(Third of five parts)

Over 600 teachers will be affected when the Kingman Elementary School District and Mohave Union High School District merge on July 1, 2001 to form the Kingman Unified School District.

For years, elementary teachers have earned less than their high school counterparts.

But that will change after unification when differences between the two are eliminated with elementary teachers catching up in the area of salaries.

"But it might be a gradual process," said Betsy Parker, superintendent of the KESD.

"It's not a huge disparity right now, but any sensible person would realize we would have to phase in (salary) equalization over two years or maybe three."

There are about 500 teachers in the elementary district, Parker said.

Mike Ford, superintendent of the high school district, said his district has 130 teachers.

No layoffs among teachers is expected after unification, Ford said.

Additional teacher hirings will depend on community growth, he added.

The Kingman Education Association has about 130 members from elementary schools in the area, according to Linda Seifers, vice president and membership chairman.

She said a drive to recruit high school teachers into the KEA will be done next year.

"There is concern about the new salary schedule," said Linda Hill, past president and co-chairman of the Professional Rights and Responsibilities Committee of the KEA.

"How will it be put together, how long will it take, and where will people be on it (within the salary steps)?

"There is a problem with being frozen.

We have people in the elementary district that were hired as some teachers at the high school in the same year and because of our freezes if they go to the high school they lose years, so they don't catch up unless we go to the date of hiring which would shuffle both schedules somewhat and figure seniority into it."

There also is a difference to resolve in the area of time off, Hill said.

"High school teachers get 13 days per year of unspecified leave, which is preferable," Hill said.

"Elementary teachers get 10 days of sick leave, two personal business leave days and a third personal business leave day if with the district more than 10 years.

"There's more flexibility at the high school because their teachers don't have to specify (why they take time off)."

Student to teacher ratios after unification should change little, Parker and Ford said.

The KESD tries to keep kindergarten classes to under 20 children, first, second and third grades to under 25, fourth, fifth and sixth grades to less than 28, and junior high to under 32, Parker said.

But those are districtwide numbers and may vary at some individual schools, she added.

"If I take the 700 kids we have at Manzanita and divide them by the number of teachers that we have there our class size is very workable," Parker said.

"However, we have a large third grade and a large fifth grade there with over 30 in each class.

"But you come to the problem of am I going to get some unqualified person to teach third grade so that I have 18 in each class or am I going to keep three outstanding teachers managing just fine with 32 kids in a classroom? It's not a desirable situation but then I have first grades with 18 or 20 so at every building it manages out to a very livable count."

Kingman High School has 24 students per teacher on paper, Ford said.

But some classes have as few as seven students while others may top out at 33, so the figure averages out, he said.

The unified district superintendent, assistants and an administrative team will come up with a teacher salary plan and timetable for its implementation, Ford said.

"The bottom line is we're going to have the highest-paid teachers in the state of Arizona, so we're going to do everything we can to come up with ways to bring salaries to comparable levels and will raise them to do that," Ford said.

"We don't anticipate freezing or anything else because it's not fair to lower or stop one's growth in order to bring everyone else up."

Next: What other districts are doing in the area of unification.