Goddard's Payson Visit Sidetracked By Teacher Concerns

Arizona attorney general files suit against Wal-Mart, AutoZone for repeat consumer fraud

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Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, in a visit to the Payson Roundup Friday afternoon, was met by about 30 teachers who were concerned they may not receive salary increases passed as part of the 2006-07 state budget.

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Attorney General Terry Goddard addresses Payson teachers Friday.

Gov. Janet Napolitano, as part of her budget, gave the Payson Unified School District an estimated $500,000 for teacher raises and to offset mandatory increases in retirement costs.

A law firm used by the Payson district, according to school administrators, stated that an attorney general's decision opinion was needed to decide whether the money could be given to teachers this year since contracts have already been signed. But on Friday afternoon, Goddard said his office does not normally issue opinions on these types of issues. Instead, his office reviews all legal opinions written for the school district before deciding whether or not to concur.

The AG said the Washington Elementary School District in Phoenix had attorney Don Peters look into the pay raises. In Peters' letter to Washington Elementary School District Superintendent Susie Cook, Peters said raises can be distributed this year if there is a contingency in teachers' contracts that have already been signed. In the letter, Peters addressed five questions:

  • Assuming the contracts are valid, he wrote, school districts cannot replace them with new contracts that increase pay for the same services.
  • Addendums cannot be added to contracts for extra pay for the same services.
  • School districts cannot issue letters of intents and set the contract terms thereafter.
  • Contracts may be changed if they initially were written to promise specified compensation while reserving the right to increase the promised compensation amounts prior to June 30.
  • It is not legal for school districts to issue contracts promising increased compensation coupled with a promise to increase the pay if additional funding makes such raises appropriate.

According to Peters' opinion Payson teacher pay could not be increased for the same services.

Goddard said a contingency would allow the teachers to receive the extra pay for extra service, which could be solved by adding an teacher-in-service day or days.

Wal-Mart and Auto Zone

Goddard's meeting with teachers was an unexpected distraction from the original intent of his trip to Payson.

Goddard came to discuss lawsuits his office filed recently against Wal-Mart and AutoZone for consumer fraud. The businesses repeatedly display incorrect prices or do not display prices at all.

The companies were warned about the illegal mispricing, but no change was made.

"What it means to us is that we ran out of (patience)," Goddard said, adding that in the past six years neither company has done anything to fix the problems. He said both have been fined, but said he thinks the two companies may be paying the fines as a necessary cost to do business. The lawsuit, however, has the potential to charge $10,000 per incident, and Goddard added there are thousands of incidents.

The Payson Wal-Mart, he said is a chronic repeat violator.

Wal-Mart, in the past six years, has paid fines of $450,000 and Auto Zone fines totaled about $170,000.

"We want to make an impression," he said. "There is no question they are on notice."

-- To reach Michael Maresh call 474-5251 ext. 112 or e-mail mmaresh@payson.com

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