by David Safier
Since the TUSD board passed a $4.4 million package of pay raises Tuesday, I've been bothered by the way the money was divided among TUSD staff, because teachers got a significantly lower percentage raise than administrators and classified staff (classified staff are, basically, everyone who's not a teacher or an administrator). Teachers got a $500 raise across the board regardless of their current salary. That means a beginning teacher received about a 1.5 percent pay boost while teachers near the top of the pay schedule got more like one percent. Everyone else, administrators and classified staff, got a 2.5 percent raise. A few people were excluded from the raises entirely, but for everyone else, that's how it worked.
Why did teachers get a significantly lower percentage raise than everyone else? That doesn't sit right with me, and based on what I've seen and heard in discussions on Facebook and elsewhere, it doesn't sit right with others either.
So I asked Superintendent H.T. Sanchez to explain the discrepancy in the raises, which he did in some detail. Since I wasn't a fly on the wall during the meetings where the raises were worked out and I don't claim to be an expert on district administrative matters (I was a classroom teacher, and I didn't pay a whole lot of attention to administrative stuff except when it affected me or my colleagues directly), I can't say whether the facts as he presented them give an accurate or complete picture of the process. So I'm going to summarize what Sanchez explained to me and leave it to commenters to discuss whether they think his explanation is adequate.
Sanchez told me the raises were negotiated with the unions representing TUSD employees: the teachers union, the administrators union and a few unions representing classified staff. No one was popping champagne corks when the deal was concluded — it's not a hell of a lot of money for anyone, especially since raises have been few and far between for years — but they all agreed to the deal.
The reason teachers got a significantly lower raise than the others, according to Sanchez, is because about 1,600 TUSD teachers had already benefited recently from fixes made to teacher salaries. There was a problem with salary compression. Some of the yearly step raises in the salary schedule were so small as to be almost insignificant, and those were increased. Also, some teachers who came into the district with previous experience ended up with higher salaries than TUSD teachers with the same amount of experience, and that problem was corrected as well. According to Sanchez, those salary adjustments — they can't be called raises since they didn't affect all teachers — added $5 million a year to the amount spent on teacher salaries. Neither administrators nor classified staff got similar adjustments.
When it came time to negotiate the current raises, teachers, because they already had that $5 million added to their salaries, got a lower percentage raise than administrators and classified staff. The raises totaled about $2 million each for teachers and classified staff. About $300,000 went to administrators' raises because there are far fewer administrators than other staff.
Sanchez expressed confidence that the $4.4 million in raises will be sustainable into the future, which was a concern Mark Stegeman raised during the board meeting. Sanchez said all that could change if the state legislature makes some significant, negative changes in the way it funds school districts, which is always possible and could alter the district's financial situation in unforeseeable ways. The nightmare scenario is if the legislature decides to sweep up districts' surplus funds to help balance the state budget, which would cause big problems for TUSD.
A final point — and this is my observation, not Sanchez's. So far as I know, these raises weren't mandated, nor are they part of standard contract negotiations. They're an attempt by TUSD to improve its employees' salaries across the board. And while I think it's reasonable to question the size of the raises to administrators, who received the highest dollar-figure raises, it's important to remember that classified staff, who are generally the lowest paid employees in the district, got a much-needed 2.5 percent salary boost. Given the deplorably inadequate state funding of schools, anything that involves money is always too little and comes too late. The raises aren't enough, they're less than district employees deserve, but they're something.