Prop 123, Tucson Area Schools, and Salary Hikes

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I read the article in the Sunday Star about teacher salaries in the Tucson area post-Prop 123, three or four times. I was trying to figure out exactly what it meant. The thrust of the article is, TUSD is being stingy with its salary hikes after receiving the recently disbursed Prop 123 funds while many other districts in the area are being more generous. But the article lacked head-to-head, apples-to-apples, salary-to-salary comparisons of teacher compensation across the districts, so I don't know if its conclusions reflect what's happening to teachers' paychecks. I tried to look a little deeper to understand the teacher salary reality in the Tucson area. That shed a little light on the subject, but not much.

If, as the article implies, TUSD allowed its teacher salary to fall below that of neighboring districts, it made a serious mistake. Because of the current teacher shortage, it's a sellers market. Teachers, especially the top prospects, are likely to get multiple offers, so they can pick and choose between districts, and salary is likely to be a serious consideration. If Superintendent Sanchez's decision to be "fiscally conservative" when it comes to raises, as he is quoted saying in the Star article, puts the district at a competitive disadvantage, then he made a bad decision. True, Prop 123 monies could face a court challenge, and an economic downturn could mean a loss of funding in the future, but it's better to take a long term gamble if it improves the short term situation where too many classrooms lack full-time teachers. And there's another issue, of course. TUSD teachers deserve a raise, and Sanchez is doing them a disservice if he's being less generous than other districts.

But is the TUSD salary raise as low as the Star article states, and is it lower than neighboring districts? I honestly don't know. According to the article, TUSD teachers will "see $700 added to their base salaries." However, the information on the TUSD website paints a different picture.

Beginning July 1, 2016, the majority of Tucson Unified School District employees will see an increase in their salary after the Governing Board voted Tuesday, June 28, 2016, to provide another raise. It's the second raise for the 2016-17 school year that has yet to begin.

Here's what teachers need to know:

All teachers who worked for the district in the 15-16 school year will see a total of $2,000 in added salary for the 16-17 year. Pay increases were approved on May 10 and June 28 by the Governing Board.

Additionally, at the June 14 Governing Board meeting, the Governing Board approved a proposal that classroom teachers who qualify for Pay for Performance monies may receive up to $3,000 in performance pay if they satisfy the prerequisites for performance pay. This double the amount from previous years. Stipends for Dual Language, math, science and exceptional education teachers remain in effect.

First year teachers new to the district for the 16-17 school year will see a salary of $35,700. The previous starting salary in Tucson Unified was $34,200.

Reconciling the TUSD and Star versions of the salary situation is way above my pay grade. However, a statement later in the Star article brings them closer together.
A $700 raise may not seem like a lot, [Sanchez] said, but the district has found innovative ways to improve teacher pay over the last three years, including increases of $500 each year and raising the amount of money teachers are eligible to receive in performance pay for attending training and for improving academic achievement.
That additional salary information, by the way, comes 10 paragraphs after the original statement about the $700 raise, well into the page 2 continuation of the front page story. By that time, casual readers had left for another story, meaning that the $700 figure is all they saw.

The important question here is how salaries compare district to district, but even that is more complicated than just looking at the salary schedule. TUSD, for example, adds $2,000 for teachers with a Masters Degree and $3,000 for a doctorate, which looks to me to be higher than some neighboring districts. The way districts give performance pay differs as well. So do health care costs and other salary deductions. That being said, a comparison of the 2016-17 salary schedules I've been able to find online puts TUSD salaries somewhere in the middle of the pack. Catalina Foothills salaries look higher. Sunnyside salaries look lower, as do salaries in Marana and Tanque Verde. I couldn't find 2016-17 salary schedules for other neighboring districts.

Conclusions? Honestly, I have none that add light to the question of teacher salaries and raises in local districts. But I would warn readers to be wary of conclusions drawn from articles about salaries which rely on a collection of disjointed figures, especially when, as in the Star article, dollar amounts are mixed with percentages without a whole lot of explanation. Also, since front page articles that put TUSD in a bad light are guaranteed to sell copies of the Star, I would always read those articles front to back, carefully, before putting too much faith in the headline and the first few paragraphs.

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