Payson school teachers may receive a $400 pay raise next year, but that increase hinges on whether state revenue collections are better than conservative predictions.
Payson School District Superintendent Herb Weissenfels said the district board took little time during a special meeting Monday to decide to include a clause in next year's teacher contracts that could increase the teacher salary schedule base.
The base raise is contingent on state "Trigger 2" money -- money that the state Legislature will make available to Arizona schools for teacher salaries if state tax revenues exceed this year's estimates by $195 million.
"If they get that," Weissenfels said, "it'll give schools an additional $18 per student."
With 2,900 students in the district, Payson schools stand to receive an extra $52,200, Weissenfels said, but since the state won't compile its revenue figures until September, any salary increases will have to be retroactive.
"We won't know until Oct. 1," he said.
"We'll have no authority to spend it until then.
"One hundred percent of it will be put on teachers' base salaries. Everybody on the teacher schedule will get that raise.
"I think the state will get the Trigger 2 money," he said. "We'll just have to wait to spend it. It'll be retroactive to the first of the school year."
Rim Country Middle School guidance counselor Ginger Sparks said, however, that she's not sure the school board would have allocated all of the Trigger 2 money to teacher salaries if it wasn't required to do so by the Legislature.
"Would our board have made that decision anyway," she asked. "I'm not confident that I could say unequivocally that they would have."
Sparks protested a board decision earlier this month to forgo meaningful teacher raises. Instead, the board approved salary step increases that averaged 2.85 percent per teacher.
Keeping teacher salaries low while there's a nationwide teacher shortage is prompting Payson educators to leave, Sparks said, and it's making it harder to recruit new teachers.
"I know a number of our staff (members) are leaving," she said. "Our base salary is not going to attract people when they can make more money elsewhere."
Last year, the district lost six teachers. Weissenfels said he knows of at least six more teachers who plan to leave the district next year.
"I know there are two or three more who are looking around," he said. "And some will go to districts that pay more -- there's no doubt about it.
"And when the base is low, it makes it tougher to hire new teachers," Weissenfels said. "It's nothing to brag about. We're low in the state. Teachers' relative placement needs the most improvement."
The base pay for a beginning teacher in Payson with a bachelor's degree is $22,835, which ranks 145th among 179 districts in Arizona. Payson teachers with master's degrees and 10 years of experience receive $28,780, which ranks 169th of 179 in the state.
"We have not made staff salaries a priority within our own budget," Sparks said. "I have to temper that with the understanding that the Legislature has not done its part in funding education."
In a state that has the 34th lowest average teacher salary -- $35,025 -- Payson teacher salaries rank among the lowest.
But bound to Payson by home and family, Sparks, who is at the top of the school district's pay scale with a master's degree and at least 66 hours of continuing education, said she plans to stay.
"I'm one of these people who's not going anywhere," she said. "I'm not going to leave, but I'm not going to sit here year after year and not say anything. How will it impact our kids when we can't get teachers?"
There are more rewards to teaching than a paycheck, she said, "but you can't pay your rent and feed your family on some of those intrinsic things. All these things combine to make me a disgruntled employee."