Educators cool to governor’s budget plans

Across the board $800 raise not nearly enough, officials from KAOL, KUSD say

KINGMAN – Gov. Janet Napolitano’s proposed 2006-2007 budget contains, at least on the surface, some impressive figures for education spending.

It includes $45.7 million in pay raises of at least $800 apiece for K-12 teachers and $115 million to complete funding of her all-day kindergarten program. She also wants $263.3 million from a projected $1 billion surplus for this fiscal year to go toward building new schools.

But Kingman educators are not jumping up and down and applauding what they have read and heard thus far. First, is the amount of the proposed teacher pay raise adequate?

“No,” Susan Chan, district administrator at the Kingman Academy of Learning, said without hesitation. “It will not bring up the average base salary that state Superintendent Tom Horne is asking for.

“I don’t know about other districts, but with the exception of one year, we always give our teachers more than an $800 raise based on what we get from the state (in maintenance and operations money).”

Horne has proposed a $2,500 tax credit for teachers that would equate to a $3,500 raise in gross after-tax pay.

The Governor’s Committee for Teacher Quality and Support has recommended a minimum starting salary for new teachers in Arizona of $35,000 annually.

Brent Potter, president of the Kingman Education Association that has about 170 members, said Napolitano’s proposal is merely a start.

“It would move us closer to $35,000 for each starting teacher,” Potter said. “But is that alone going to do it? Definitely not.”

Potter previously stated KEA members do not support Horne’s idea of a tax credit for teachers instead of an actual boost reflected in checks.

Betsy Parker, assistant superintendent of the Kingman Unified School District, said the amount proposed is not adequate.

“$800 when you’re looking at a $1 billion surplus seems a little paltry,” she said. “But it’s not something we would turn away.”

How money may be disbursed among teachers was not explained in an Associated Press story detailing Napolitano’s proposed budget.

Parker said it might be a set amount for every teacher, regardless of years of experience.

“A state with a $1 billion surplus that is 49th in the nation in the amount spent on students should stand up and pay attention, and I hope that will be the case,” Parker said.

Potter said officials with the Department of Education should look closely at districts before making any decision. Rural districts such as Kingman can’t compete with urban ones to attract and keep qualified teachers due to pay scales at present. Some districts, such as those on Indian reservations, get federal funding not available to Kingman and similar districts.

“I hope they don’t use some blanket formula where it’s all looked at the same way,” Potter said. “We’re not all funded the same way.”

Mt. Tipton in Dolan Springs presently is the only KUSD school receiving all-day kindergarten funding.

Parker said she has not heard of any talk about increasing funding in increments, which is how it currently is done based on the number of children eligible for free or reduced-price federal lunches. She estimates the KUSD could receive $736,000 to cover the cost of all-day kindergarten if Napolitano’s budget passes the state Legislature as proposed.

Many districts, including the KAOL, receive only half-day funding for kindergarten. The district has offered all-day kindergarten for the 10 years of its existence.

“All-day funding would be awesome,” Chan said.

“We have 92 kindergarten children but get funding for the equivalent of 46. Multiply 46 times $4,200 per child and that would be $193,200 more for us.”

The KAOL is a charter district and thus ineligible for any building assistance funding from the state’s School Facilities Board. The district must seek out investors to sell bonds on its behalf in order to erect new buildings, Chan said.

Representatives from the SFB did an assessment of the KUSD during 2003-2004 and have told officials there they can expect no funding until 2011. District officials are moving toward getting a bond issue in front of voters on the November ballot.

“When the SFB did its evaluation on us, we had not experienced the rapid growth we’re getting now,” Parker said. “Right after the evaluation, (developers) opened up the Golden Gate Improvement District and the town has gone wild since.

“We have a lot of material we’re preparing to take to (the SFB) to show them Rhodes Homes has approved 120,000 new homes in the community.”

Parker is uncertain if Napolitano’s request for setting aside $263.3 million from the projected $1 billion surplus in this year’s budget would prompt SFB officials to release money to the KUSD sooner than 2011.