Veteran American studies teacher Bob Hoyt of Payson High School and dozens of other teachers packed the Payson School District Board meeting Monday to protest the district's proposed salary schedule. The new schedule would add $3,700 to beginning teacher salaries, but would reduce the raises some veteran teachers would be eligible for next year.
"You say that you want to keep your older, more experienced teachers," Hoyt told the board. "I find that to be an oxymoron, like 'jumbo shrimp' or 'a tall Hoyt," quipped the diminutive teacher.
"I have 17 years of successful teaching experience. I have 42 graduate hours. I have donated thousands of hours to the kids of Payson and other areas. But if a new teacher came in today with no experience, he would make $2,000 less than me on your new schedule. That's very disheartening to me."
The school board wants to raise beginning teacher salaries from $23,000 to about $27,000 so the district can better compete for new teachers. The money from the raises, district administrators said, would come from cutbacks, the elimination of five non-teaching staff position and money shifted from other budget areas.
But as Hoyt and dozens of other disgruntled teachers at the meeting see it, the proposal rewards new, inexperienced teachers who don't have a stake in the district at the expense of loyal, veteran teachers who've served the district for years.
After several hours of emotional appeals from district teachers, the board tabled the issue, along with a proposed change in salary ranges for Payson's principals.
Before that delay, however, a dozen teachers voiced their disapproval.
"We received a letter marked 'confidential' Friday evening, we only had the weekend to look it over, and come Monday it's on the agenda for approval," said Jerry Daniels, a government and keyboarding instructor at Payson High.
"What this does ... is to say, 'You are coming in on the same level as a brand new, first-year teacher, said Cindy Chovich, a fourth-grade teacher at Frontier Elementary School. "That has an extreme psychological effect on a veteran teacher, a master teacher."
"We've stuck it out for peanuts, but we're still here, and we're still being punished for our loyalty," added P.E. teacher Peggy Miles. "Next year will be my ninth at Payson High School, and (with this plan), I am put back at step one. How does that happen? I have a real problem with that ..."
Of the dozen-or-so teachers who spoke, only one PHS math teacher Judy Larkins applauded the proposed pay schedule.
"I have put over 20 years into this district, and I was very happy to see the board take such a bold step," Larkins said. "My (salary) isn't where I hoped it would be, but I didn't care. As department chairman, I am interviewing those people who are coming in, and my goal is to see a higher base salary (to lure new teachers into the district) ... I am very thankful to the board for taking this step."
Prior to tabling the new salary schedule, board members agreed that the plan contained "flaws," but that it was still a work in progress.
"This is a process," said board President Albert Hunt, "and it's not a done deal for this year. It'll probably take another year or two to finalize the salary schedule. We understand that there are some flaws in this schedule and we're working on that ... but to bring the base salary up so that we can attract new teachers, we felt that this was the best way to go at this time."
"Our problem is that this is a declining budget year," added board member Kristi Ford. "We have to make up roughly $580,000 in special ed cuts. We also have declining student enrollment that amounts to (a loss of) about ($182,000). We are looking at close to a $1 million in cuts in the district budget ... our new teachers are moving out as fast as they are moving in because they can't afford to live here ...
"We started the year with classified teachers, not certified teachers in our classrooms," she continued. "I don't know about you, but that is unacceptable to me. That shortchanges the classroom ... We felt that addressing the base first was the most important thing that we needed to do ...
"But we aren't done," Ford said, "because we still don't know what the state Legislature is going to come down with" regarding Prop. 301, "and we won't until the end of the legislative session" on or around April 15.
Proposition 301, passed in the last state election, has raised the state sales tax by six-tenths of 1 percent, or 6 cents on $10, to raise additional money for education. Payson School Superintendent Herb Weissenfels has said that Proposition 301 could generate $175,000 for Payson schools, and possibly more.
Prior to Monday's meeting, Weissenfels said that the 301 money "could vary as much as an additional $5,000 per teacher, depending upon legislative decisions as to exactly how that money is to be applied to the salaries. We know they'll be applied in some way, but exactly what limitations will put on them is not known. It's sitting down there in Phoenix now."
But Hoyt, like most of the other teachers at the meeting, found little solace in the promises of Proposition 301.
"I am the main breadwinner in my family," he said. "I have been told there may be 301 money available. But you know, Wells Fargo doesn't want to hear that there may be money coming that a payment may be coming, maybe. Maybe I can pay my mortgage. I don't think I'll be writing them a proposed check."
In other action Monday, the board agreed to call for bids for the construction of Payson High School's long-anticipated all-weather track.
"We expect the first phase, the installation of the track, to be complete by the end of this summer," said Weissenfels Monday afternoon. "The second phase putting in new bleachers where the old ones are, moving the old bleachers, plus making parking lot improvements and perhaps adding a second concession stand may take another year or two. That's going to be pretty expensive."
The total budget for the track, he said, is "around $250,000."
During that pre-meeting interview, Weissenfels also discussed the reasons why the board felt the need to create its proposed salary schedule and how that schedule fits in with PUSD's current budget shortfall of hundreds of thousands of dollars, caused by declining enrollment and a new state criteria that will reduce the number of students eligible to be placed in a special education category called Emotionally Disabled-Private.
"The (salary) ranges really aren't related to the budget deficit," Weissenfels said. "It's an attempt by the board to have some better understanding for minimum and maximum pay for administrators. Therefore, a range was developed based upon not being the lowest and nowhere near the highest in the state.
"We've surveyed approximately 45 school districts the closest to our size, and based upon their salaries, we developed a range that was a little bit above the absolute minimums and fairly well below the absolute maximums," he said. "That range is what we proposed for our district administrators."
In his research, Weissenfels said he found that the salaries of local high school principals are "below the national average by about $6,000 ... In fact, a couple of our administrators are even below the range, to illustrate how low some of our people are paid even in the administrative area."
To accommodate the proposed salary schedule, he said, existing budget funds were "shifted" from areas that have the "least direct effect" on students and their education in areas such as non-site supplies and staff development, postage, travel expenses, and the elimination of five existing positions freeing up some $220,000 for salary increases without directly affecting students, teachers or their classrooms.
One area that will be left alone for the time being, Weissenfels promised, is full-day kindergarten, of which there is now one program in each of Payson's three elementary schools.
"Of course, it's hard to say what might happen in the future due to budgetary restraints and other considerations, but it is our absolute intention to do everything we can to keep one full-day kindergarten class in each of the district's elementary schools. We'd love to add more, and if everything goes well over the next couple of years, we could do that, too," he said.
As for balancing the district's off-kilter budget, "There is no concern there," Weissenfels said. "The budget will be balanced; by law, it must be balanced, and that's all there is to it ... Essentially, what we take in is what we'll spend. There's bound to be a little carryover, but you don't want to get into a spot where you have to spend more than you've got."
Easing the board's concern, he said, is the fact that the deficit that was originally calculated around $770,000 is much higher than the actual amount.
Part of the reduction is due to a miscalculation in student counts. Whereas the district's 40-day count showed a drop of 68 students, the 100-day count put the number at 51, making the budget deficit about $178,000 less than it appeared, Weissenfels said.