Although Payson teachers will receive a 2.78 percent salary raise next school year, they won't likely notice an increase in their take-home pay.
The raise recently approved by the school board, $840 per teacher, will be offset by increased contributions teachers are required to make to the Arizona State Retirement System (ASRS).
The ASRS Board of Trustees --t a meeting in November 2004 --called for an increase from the current 5.2 percent of employee and employer contributions to a rate of 7.75 percent.
According to ASRS officials, the increase was needed to fund higher pensions and to assist retirees with ever ballooning health insurance costs.
The 2.5 percent retirement fund payment increase that teachers are required to pay next year will gobble up most of the raise.
According to PUSD Business Manager Bobette Sylvester, in the budget process, the district's goal was to find enough money to offset the increase in retirement contributions.
"Our philosophy this year was to try and maintain class sizes and all staff positions while covering the (increase in) retirement," she said.
Rim Country Middle School English teacher Michelle Gibbar, also the president of the Payson Education Association, said staff members were hoping for a greater pay raise from the district.
"From talking to various teachers, the mood is not one of happiness," she said.
Although teachers did receive a pay raise in the new budget, they will not be given vertical steps -- for years of service -- on the salary schedule.
They will, however, receive horizontal steps -- for earning more graduate hours.
Sylvester contends the $840 per position raise was "a better value" than awarding the vertical steps.
A teacher who asked not to be identified, argued that teachers should have received their vertical steps to cover cost-of-living increases, and because teachers become more valuable with the additional year of experience.
"Teachers should be rewarded for their loyalty to the district and compensated for their experience," she said.
According to PUSD superintendent Herb Weissenfels, the increase the teachers received, was probably the best the district could offer.
"We tried to commit everything possible (to pay raises)," he said.
With the raise, the base salary for a beginning teacher with a bachelor's degree improves to $31,040 from $30,200.
That amount is competitive to districts around the state.
According to Arizona Education Association statistics, Miami School District's base is $31,200 and in Scottsdale it is $31,160. Tucson Unified School District's beginning salary is $30,500.
The average base pay in Maricopa County is $30,840.
A Payson teacher with a master's degree and 10 years experience will earn $40,239. In Scottsdale, a teacher with the same experience and education would earn $40,693.
A teacher at the pinnacle of the new Payson scale, one with a master's degree, 72 additional hours and 25 years of experience would earn $54,550.
The average maximum in Maricopa County is $56,588.
Reaching Payson's maximum, however, is more difficult than it is in most Valley schools.
In Scottsdale, a teacher can attain maximum earnings in 18 vertical steps, or years teaching, rather than 25 as it is in PUSD.
"Payson has quite a hurdle to overcome to get to the top," Arizona Education Association Associate Doug Stagner said.
No budget yet
Although the salary schedule for next year has been finalized, Sylvester is waiting for Gov. Janet Napolitano and the legislature to OK a state budget before she can settle on a district budget.
Last week, a new set of budget bills were introduced that contain some of the same language as the budget bills Napolitano vetoed last month.
With the governor and legislature at a stalemate, PUSD is in a waiting game, Sylvester said.
According to Weissenfels, there is a bill being considered that would help school districts provide salary increases to offset the large increase in retirement contributions.
"It's difficult to know what they'll do with that," he said.
The sticking point in the state adopting a new budget is that Napolitano, a Democrat, is only lukewarm to vouchers and the tuition tax credits that the Republican-controlled legislature has tried to push through.
The governor has also said publicly she advocates full-day kindergarten, which was not included in the budget she vetoed.