Senate President Questions Pace Of Teacher Raise Decision

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Ken Bennett, president of the Arizona Senate, is among those wondering why the Payson Unified School District is reluctant to declare when and how much of the new state budget increase will go to teacher pay raises.

Responding to an e-mail from a PUSD teacher asking what local teachers could do to ensure they receive raises this year, Bennett said, "Essentially it is up to the elected school board members to instruct the administration to provide these monies for the purposes we intended."

The Legislature's intent, he said, was for the budget increase to be used "primarily for teacher pay increases this coming year."

But, Payson school administrators say they are wrestling with how to distribute money to teachers -- who have already signed next year's contracts -- without violating state "gift of public funds" laws.

Bennett's suggestion is, "If the contracts are signed, I would think this could be accomplished by a district-wide amendment to the already signed contracts. I doubt many teachers would object to such an amendment."

The money given to Payson for pay increases, about $500,000, would come from the budget Gov. Janet Napolitano signed into law about two weeks ago that gave Arizona public schools $100 million for teacher pay raises and to offset a mandatory increase in retirement costs.

Since the budget was signed, district administrators have not said when and how much money teachers would receive. A law firm used by the district and others around the state have said an attorney general's opinion is needed to decide whether the money can be doled out this school year.

The school board will have the opportunity to act on the pay raises at a regular scheduled meeting and budget hearing July 10. However, because board member Don Engler will be absent, another meeting to discuss the pay increases has been set for July 13.

Engler said be would be absent for the July 13 meeting, but will participate by phone.

Because the money received from the state budget must be placed somewhere in the PUSD coffers, administrators say they will place it in the CORL (Capital Outlay Reserve Limit) Monday.

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