Organic Matter: Teachers make case for better pay

Teachers in the Kingman Unified School District presented their salary proposals for 2002-2003 during a meeting of the district Governing Board last Wednesday night.

What they asked seems reasonable.

It begins with a $150 increase in step 1 pay, meaning a first-year teacher with a bachelor's degree would go from the present salary of $26,850 to $27,000 per year if approved by the board.

Teachers face the same escalating expenses as everyone else.

Utility bills, groceries, insurance, childcare and just about anything else you can think of are going up.

Linda Hill, librarian at Manzanita Elementary School, also told the board that teachers could leave the KUSD and go to work at the Kingman Academy of Learning, where they would immediately earn more.

That the KUSD is no longer the only game in town, education wise, was pointed out.

One interesting idea put forth by the committee is to ask parents to provide classroom supplies for their children.

The proposal stated if just one-third of parents do so, the district supply budget could be cut by 30 percent with that money channeled into teacher salaries.

Some other issues are still under discussion between a meet and confer committee and superintendent Mike Ford.

Among them are incentives such as bonus pay for teachers after so many years of service in the district and continuing teacher education.

Areas of general agreement between the two sides include:

• Allowing teachers one duty-free, meeting-free, minimum attendance day per week so they can better address the mountain of paperwork they face.

• Having the district pay "up front" for the cost for any workshops attended by teachers.

At present, teachers pay this cost and are later reimbursed, a process that can take several weeks.

• Giving teachers more control over the budgets for their respective classrooms.

At present, supplies at some schools are ordered by a secretary, who often does not know just what is needed by the teachers.

This occasionally leads to the purchase of an inferior product that saves money initially but is of little use in the classroom, making the money spent wasted.

The governing board is about to begin putting together the budget for next year.

All of the issues presented by Hill on behalf of teachers and Barbara Speer for classified personnel must be carefully weighed.

The budget crunch faced by the state as far as education is concerned grew a bit more distressing last Thursday when it was reported that Proposition 301 money is running 13 percent below projections due to the slumping economy.

The voter-approved six-tenths of one-cent sales tax increase is intended to go into education with much of it meant to increase teacher pay.

Schools were authorized to budget $272 per students on the basis of legislative estimates made before the state began collecting the six-tenths of one cent tax last July, said Scott Thompson, finance director of the state Department of Education.

But the tax is only bringing in $237 per student.

Estimates for next fiscal year look no better with school districts being told to expect about $239 per student.

Bob Flach, chief financial officer for the Scottsdale School District, said he doesn't know how much money it will leave his district short or how the cut may affect the district's 1,829 teachers.

Mesa, which is the state's largest district, has frozen budgets in selected areas, but is not considering any pay cuts, according to district spokeswoman Judi Willis.

Officials with the Chandler Unified School District say they could face a $500,000 loss in Proposition 301 funds next year.

As I look at the entire picture emerging for next year, the one person whose job I am glad I do not hold is Greg Parker, director of personnel for the KUSD.

He does much of the teacher recruitment for his district.

He must paint an attractive picture of life in Kingman to entice qualified teachers to move here.

He finds the teachers during trips to other states and gets them to come here, only to have to work equally hard the following spring due to turnover.

Teachers who usually leave the KUSD move on for better-paying positions in other districts.

But I wonder how many of them become so discouraged with their profession that they opt for some other career?

Teacher retention is a high priority in most districts, as it should be.

Educational continuity depends on keeping the same teachers in the classroom year after year.