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12:20 AM Thu, Jan. 17th

Educators here back proposal for minimum teacher salary

By Terry Organ

Miner Staff Writer

KINGMAN ­ Local teachers and school officials like a proposal that would raise the minimum starting salary of a new teacher in Arizona to $35,000 annually.

But the idea from the Governor's Committee for Teacher Quality and Support does not include either cost estimates or whether the state would provide districts with the added funding if the proposal should be enacted by the state Legislature.

"From a teacher's perspective, I see this as something long overdue," said Brent Potter, a guidance counselor at Kingman High School South and president of the Kingman Education Association. "Something like this can be a way to equalize discrepancies between working in urban and rural areas, although you must also consider the cost of living in both.

"The Alhambra School District's starting salary is $38,000 for a teacher right out of college with a bachelor's degree. Ours is $27,500."

"The cost of living in Phoenix is not so much more to justify the pay difference. But it could help rural areas, where it's harder to recruit new teachers."

The proposal submitted by Gov. Janet Napolitano's task force could help bring new teachers to Arizona. But it also would raise the average starting salary by 25 percent from its present statewide figure of $28,000.

Napolitano reportedly is considering submitting the idea to the state Legislature next spring.

Betsy Parker, assistant superintendent of the Kingman Unified School District, said the more money that can be found for teachers the better.

"One thing I would hope is that they don't mandate a minimum teaching wage without a way to finance it," she said.

Susan Chan, district administrator of the Kingman Academy of Learning, said her district is not far off the proposed minimum salary now.

The district employs about 70 teachers.

"My only concern would be that the type of salary proposed be continued throughout the whole salary scale, not just starting new teachers at $35,000," Chan said.

"We need to take into consideration people who are here longer and have more education. They would need a proportional raise."

Chan also has reservations about how the proposal would be funded. There is no way districts can pay the salary increases without funding behind it from legislators.

Andrew Morrill, vice president of the Arizona Education Association and one of the committee members proposing the minimum salary, said it is a promising piece to a larger piece of teacher compensation in general.

"It's really encouraging of someone at the top looking at teacher compensation and going after it," Morrill said. "The governor has been an education advocate all along.

"The $35,000 figure is not set in stone. But it is the figure most commonly studied as a minimum for teachers and it would raise salaries all over the state for most with just a few areas where the gap is not so great."

"For Kingman, I have to believe it would be a significant escalation."

Morrill said the proposal represents an infusion of new money and would be a dramatic increase of how we invest in schools, not just a case of moving money around.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne made a proposal in October to use some of the state's budget surplus to provide K-12 teachers with a $2,500 state income tax credit. That would carry a total price tag of $152 million that could be absorbed by the state.

Potter had previously turned thumbs down to that idea.

"It does not reflect on teacher retirement for one thing," Potter said.

"A tax credit also can be easily taken away. It would reward teachers for the past year, but would not be good management practice to set it up as a continuous thing."