Roughly 85 percent of the Kingman Unified School District budget of $46,837,556 this year goes toward employee salaries and benefits.
Yet classroom teacher pay here continues to lag behind the state average of $40,894 and the national average of $45,822.
Those figures come from National Education Association research data collected in May 2003.
"We're using a stepless pay scale to place new teachers," district personnel director Greg Parker said.
"Once they're placed, they receive a percentage for an increase.
"For example, a teacher with a bachelor's degree and six years' experience would be placed at $31,650 and each year after that would receive a percentage approved by the (district governing) board."
Parker said the state Legislature has not provided sufficient funding for three years to give KUSD teachers the step increases common in other districts, so the stepless schedule was worked out for use in his district.
A teacher fresh out of college with a bachelor's degree would start at $27,300 this year in the KUSD.
The stepless salary scale is used in the Blue Ridge and Casa Grande school districts, Parker said.
It has not been formally approved by the KUSD governing board and is under study by executive councils of both certified and classified employees.
John Hicks is a teacher at Black Mountain Elementary School and president of the Kingman Education Association, which has nearly 200 members.
"I'm on a committee that is reviewing (the stepless schedule) and we'll come up with proposals to make it work for our district," Hicks said.
"It works well in the Blue Ridge district, but we have a lot more employees and how it works here is being analyzed heavily at this time."
Hicks said there was a lot of confusion about teacher pay when the old Mohave Union High School District merged with the Kingman Elementary School District on July 1, 2001, to form the KUSD, which is now standardizing pay scales.
On the plus side is additional money from state Proposition 301.
Hicks said it has been a blessing and helps pay bills.
"I think we're all aware of where we stand in the state and compared with national pay," Hicks said.
"Our district is trying to improve teacher pay, but it's difficult with the funding mechanism of the state."
Teacher salaries are higher at Kingman Academy of Learning, a charter district that added an 11th grade section this year and which will be a full-fledged high school in 2004-2005.
A new teacher with a bachelor's degree at KAL earns $28,500.
Teachers in the district receive an extra $500 for each year of experience in the step pay schedule and another $750 for every 12 hours of additional education.
"I worked at the other district two years and the higher salary at the academy was one factor that brought me here," said Laurie Hernandez, an eighth-grade science teacher at the KAL Middle School.
Teachers at KAL must have a master's degree plus 12 hours additional education and 18 years experience or 24 hours additional education and 17 years experience before reaching the average state salary.
"It seems we're well below the national average as a state," Hernandez said.
"But Proposition 301 has made a nice difference.
It's something to look forward to and makes us feel more appreciated."
The $500 step increment is how teachers have been paid in KAL since the district's inception, district administrator Susan Chan said.
"We've divided the steps by increments of 12 hours after achieving a bachelor's degree, so teachers are rewarded for staying with us and going to school," Chan said.
"With current certification practices, they have to go to school to maintain their certificates."
Both KUSD and KAL offer higher starting salaries for new teachers than Lake Havasu Unified District, which starts "rookie" teachers at $26,000, according to a copy of its 2003-2004 salary schedule supplied by the Arizona Education Association.
KAL also is higher on starting salary than the $27,700 for a new teacher with the Flowing Wells Unified District in Tucson, although the KUSD is $400 lower.
Lake Havasu and Flowing Wells are comparable with KUSD in enrollment numbers.