MUSD board member Torri Anderson. Photo by Devin Carson

By Michelle Chance

Boosting pay for district employees remained the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board’s top priority Wednesday night.

During an ongoing budget debate between funding for after-school activity buses and raising salaries for its staff, the board proposed an $80,000 drop in funds it originally proposed in April that would have gone toward transportation for the 2017-18 school year.

The proposed funds allocated for after-school buses was lowered to $114,000.

Superintendent Steve Chestnut said the savings would go toward employee pay – raising the district’s budget amount in the area to $680,000.

The additional funds would increase staff salary across the board by 2.5 percent. However, it might raise teacher pay even more with anticipated salary increases by the state.

“This would be an increase for teacher pay, not including the increase proposed by the state Legislature,” Chestnut said.

Board Member Torri Anderson requested the board look into the cost of raising the district’s proposed pay increase even higher to 3 percent, which Chestnut agreed he would investigate.

During a previous deliberation, the board proposed funding to resurrect activity buses after a presentation by Maricopa Wells Middle School where Principal Rick Abel said the additional transportation helped increase student participation in after-school study sessions.

Two weeks ago, the board proposed a nearly $200,000 budget for buses that would run five days a week at secondary schools.

Wednesday, Chestnut said MWMS currently has after-school transportation two days a week, and it is not heavily used by students.

“In (Abel’s) judgement, parents have adjusted with carpools, and that kind of thing, for the other days of the week for practice,” Chestnut said.

The superintendent then proposed two middle school buses that would operate only two days a week, as well as adding three after-school buses for the high school.

Proposing a chunk of funding toward after-school transportation does not come without controversy, as it was done away with at the high school years ago for students’ bad behavior.

“The great fear at the high school is the kids that hang around waiting for activity buses — and they’re very difficult to manage,” Chestnut said. “It’s actually the main reason we ended the high school afternoon activity bus about four years ago.”

The funding for the buses would include pay for a security guard to keep watch over students.

The budget proposal continues to be a fluid discussion with board members adjusting, suggesting and cutting figures for a variety of expenditures that in all total $1.088 million for the 2017-18 school year.

One expenditure that Board Member Gary Miller regularly requests discussion on is a salary figure for a full-time district plumber.

“I know that is a priority for one of our maintenance departments,” Miller said.

The board is expected to discuss those estimates during another budget work session May 30 at 7 p.m.