The Payson School Board last week approved a roughly 5 percent employee pay raise, with money set aside for an extra, much-debated 5 percent “merit pay” increase for the district’s 12 administrators.
The raises will cost the district about $1 million when combined with a roughly $265,000 increase in health benefit costs that the district will absorb.
The board also increased pay for the 35 substitute teachers from $80 to $100 per day — or $120 per day for long-term substitutes. At $100 per day, substitutes were barely making minimum wage.
The proposal to set aside $52,000 to pay for an eventual merit pay plan for administrators provoked the most debate at the board meeting, although in the end the board unanimously approved the plan presented by outgoing Superintendent Greg Wyman.
“I think we need more time,” said board member Shane Keith. “I’m not comfortable voting on a performance pay system (for administrators) when we don’t know how it works and how it will be paid out.”
Board president Barbara Underwood also resisted setting aside money for a performance pay plan for administrators prior to the arrival of the new superintendent Stan Rentz in June.
“I’m going to stay strong with my position from the last meeting. I still feel I cannot support the extra 5 percent (for administrators). We’re giving everybody else 5 percent and then give the administrators 10 percent.”
Newly elected board member Jolynn Schinstock said “I don’t want there to be some animosity. Isn’t there something we can do that might make both sides happy? Is there anything we could do that would be more in the middle to compromise? You guys have built this great relationship with administration.”
“With everybody,” interjected Underwood.
“But we’re focusing on the administration right now,” said Schinstock. “We want to make sure we value all of our staff.”
The board ultimately decided to put into the budget the $52,000 for a performance pay increase for administrators, but to wait for the arrival of the new superintendent to settle on the details.
“Worst case scenario is that you can’t come to an agreement and the $52,000 rolls into the contingency fund for next year,” said Wyman.
The contingency fund in the proposed budget is about $500,000, which is almost nothing for a $14 million operating budget. Meanwhile, the across-the-board increase in pay and benefits costs will force economies in other areas like curriculum, technology, class sizes and transportation.
The raises will range from perhaps $1,000 for the 140 classified employees like janitors and secretaries to about $2,500 for the 121 teachers. Administrators will get about $3,500 from the 5 percent increase in the base rate plus perhaps $3,800 when the merit pay plan kicks in.
The teachers already have a merit pay plan, which adds about $3,500 annually to their salaries. Virtually all of the teachers qualify for the merit pay plan based on meeting their goals. The money comes from a proposition that voters approved years ago and is now effectively built into the base salary. The proposition specifies that the teachers themselves must approve the plan, which has resulted in a system in which almost every teacher qualifies for the merit-based raise.
Arizona teachers have among the lowest salaries and largest class sizes in the nation, but have received steady raises in the past several years. The Legislature last year set aside money for a 12 percent teacher raise, with another 10 percent promised this year. In most districts, the administrators didn’t share in that raise unless they were also teaching.
The increases approved by the Payson School Board last week should ensure Payson remains one of the top paying small, rural school districts in the state, according to an informal salary study conducted by Wyman.
Wyman compared salary schedules in 25 Arizona districts with enrollments ranging from 1,000 to 5,000 students. Payson has 2,400 students.
Overall, Payson ranked 16th out of 27 districts for total classroom spending, about 2.3 percent below the average. The district had the fifth lowest administrative costs, about 2 percent below the average.
The district ranked in the top third for classified staff salaries, roughly $2.25 per hour above the average. In many categories, employees in Payson start lower than in other districts, but advance to a higher maximum over time.
Over the past five years, classified employees have received raises ranging from 18 to 41 percent, according to Wyman’s study.
Teachers have done even better when it comes to raises and top salary ranges.
The entry-level pay for teachers has risen from $32,000 to $40,000 in the last five years. In the past four years, base salaries have risen by 17 percent and the amount included in the performance pay boost has risen 78 percent. So a new teacher at the bottom of the salary schedule will be making 27 percent more than she did four years ago — about $44,000 for a nine-month contract.
Most teachers make much more, since Payson has a high experience level and a higher maximum salary than most districts. In fact, the top pay for Payson teachers is a full 27 percent higher than the average in other districts. The district has the second highest maximum salary among the 25 districts surveyed.
As a result, the average teacher in Payson actually makes $45,893.
The district also ranks in the top third of other rural districts when it comes to salaries for administrators. However, the increase for administrators in the past four years averages just 12 percent, about one-third of the rate of increase for teachers.
Payson administrators come in much closer to the average among the 25 districts. Payson administrators average $82,000, about 6 percent more than in other districts — or $13,895. Payson’s minimum administrative salary is 14 percent above the average and the maximum salary is 11 percent above the average.
However, pay for the high school and one elementary school principal were slightly below the average when compared to other districts.
The new superintendent will have to quickly devise a way to set goals for administrators and figure out if they qualify for merit pay increases. He’ll face a variety of viewpoints on the board.
Keith wanted to reduce the base pay increase and put more money into the performance pay plan, arguing it would boost performance.
Underwood worried about what the community would think about a big increase for administrators, already averaging $82,000 in salary. She expressed concern the argument about administrator salaries could undercut voter support for a budget override, which needs approval by the end of the year. If voters reject the override, the district would have to cut its budget by about $1.4 million.
But they both ultimately went along with the three relative newcomers on the board.
Board member Joanne Conlin said, “I say the $52,000 goes into the budget to save the money, but when we do our performance plan it may not be $52,000. It may be $30,000. But we can’t do more than $52,000.”
Wyman urged the board to start working on the performance pay plan for administrators now, rather than waiting for Rentz to arrive in June.