MUSD salary schedule still a point of contention

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The Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board requested more options be brought forward before making a final decision on the new salary schedule for the 2015-16 school year.

Changes to the salary schedule have been a point of contention for teachers and administrators within the Maricopa Unified School District recently. The new salary schedule that has been proposed for the district would potentially pay new hires from outside the district with equal experience more than current teachers who have worked within the district for years. This would replace the old plan that provides a 2 percent raise each year the teacher stays in the district.

“From what I understand, if MUSD was to hire from outside the district (with the equivalent experience), they would immediately begin their employment at a higher salary than I make,” Butterfield Elementary teacher Jeewon Chung said. “I respect the district’s effort to provide the best compensation possible to attract talent to MUSD, but it should not be done while overlooking the teachers who have dedicated themselves to this district. I think it sends the wrong message.”

The district has been unable to provide the full 2 percent raise for teachers in five of the last six years. Sixty-seven teachers still within the district didn’t receive any raise for four years. During the 2014-15 school year, however, the district was able to exceed the expected 2 percent raise due to the district-sponsored charter school funding. This is not maintainable because the state ended that funding.

“This is an unsustainable model,” Superintendent Steve Chestnut said. “This model made a lot of sense 10 years ago. However, times have changed and there doesn’t seem to be any real hope that we are going to see a return to that funding level.”

Chestnut did state his gratitude to the teachers that have stayed with the district during the “lean times.” However, his hope for the new salary schedule proposal is to provide incentive for teachers in high-needs categories (math, science and special education) to come to the district.

In order to make it fair to the 67 teachers who never received a raise, the district has been subtracting four years of experience during the hiring process. This has hurt the district when it comes to recruiting new hires in such a competitive environment, he said. The district is trying to create an outlet to stand out to prospective teachers.

“I’m concerned about the message that’s going to send to our teachers,” board member Annamarie Knorr said. “I understand the competitive disadvantage when we are trying to recruit new teachers. However, there are 67 teachers who, under this plan, will have [newly hired] teachers across the hall making considerably more money than them. My concern is that we will lose those 67 teachers.”

The proposed salary schedule is considered to be “cost neutral.” One of the options being considered is providing extra money for years of experience. Human Resources Director Tom Beckett explained that, depending on that figure for extra pay, it could potentially save the district money over offering 2 percent for each year of experience.

The board requested a comparison of what current teachers (specifically the 67 who went without a raise) are making in comparison to what a new hire would be making for a starting salary.

“I agree that we do need to make a change away from the step system,“ board member Torri Anderson said. “Our ultimate goal is to be an ‘A’ district. I truly believe the only way we are going to be an ‘A’ district is if we retain teachers. I would like to see something where new hires will be making less than those 67 teachers. I think we’re on the right track, but I think it needs to be manipulated more.”

***ADVERTISEMENT***The board chose not to make any decision until they could see more options.

“I would love to fund every teacher for what they’ve earned,” board President Patti Coutre said. “It’s a hard decision, but we have to do what is fiscally responsible for our district. We’re one of the few districts not cutting staff. But with the way our education is going in the state of Arizona, things will have to change. We’re not the first district to make these changes, and I guarantee we won’t be the last.”