By Wayne Schutsky GSN Managing Editor

Teachers and other public school staff in Gilbert are in line for significant raises next school year.

The governing boards for both Higley Unified School District and Gilbert Public Schools approved salary increases as a result of the education funding increases approved by the Arizona Legislature and Governor Doug Ducey last month.

(GSN file photo) Teachers and their supporters maintained daily vigils at the State Capitol.

The GPS board approved a 9 percent increase in teacher salaries for the 2018-2019 school year. The plan also includes a five percent raise for administrators, support staff and other professionals, including nurses, social workers, psychologists and speech pathologists.

The board considered five plans in total — including one that would have given teachers a 10 percent raise and all other staff a 2.12 percent raise and another that would have given 7.25 percent raise to teachers and staff — before settling on its choice.

The pay increase passed with a 5-0 vote.

Higley Unified School District voted unanimously to increase teacher salaries by 11 percent and also raised the base teacher salary by $2,000 to $40,000 per year at a special meeting on May 30.

That base salary increase will only affect new hires. With the increase, some new hires could earn up to $45,900 with classroom site fund dollars and pay for performance add-ons, said Mum Martens, district executive director of human resources.

Even with that increase, no new first-year teacher will earn more than established teachers.

“There will be no situation where a new first-year teacher will leapfrog over any (teacher) who already teaches here in Higley with these numbers,” HUSD board member Scott Glover said.

Like Gilbert Public Schools, Higley will also give a salary bump to other district staff.

The plan provides a 10 percent increase for counselors and instructional coaches; a five percent raise for classified personnel and psychologists, speech language pathologists and occupational therapists; and a four percent increase to administrators.

The 11 percent raise for teachers, along with other raises for district staff, includes a two percent raise previously approved by the board.

In an email sent to parents, the Gilbert Public Schools said it did not give the teacher’s the full 10 percent raise funded by the state for a number of reasons, including GPS’ decision to give the nine percent raise to all certified teachers, including reading coaches, librarians, counselors and academic coaches.

The state definition of teacher covered only those instructors currently in a classroom, according to the email.

Both boards acknowledged the role teachers played in securing funding from the state to support the raises.

“I just want to say that I am so impressed by your resolve, teachers,” Higley board member Amy Kaylor told the dozens of teachers in attendance at the board’s meeting. “You did more in a week than our legislators and lobbyists did in years.”

At the GPS meeting, board member Jill Humpherys said, “This is a lot of money, and I am very cognizant that without some hard work on behalf of people who have found their voice, this would not have happened.”

Teachers, in turn, thanked the district for its support.

“It seems like the majority of my 31 years of teaching has been fighting for public education – funding, rights of teachers and students and so forth,” said Diane Drazinski, president of the Gilbert Education Association and a science teacher at Mesquite High.

She added, “I just want to come out and thank you. We took a huge risk. You took a huge risk in supporting us, and it paid off.”

Dozens of teachers, many dressed in Red for Ed T-shirts, attended the Higley board meeting and gave a round of applause when the board officially approved the pay increase.

“I’m just so happy that the school board has been so supportive of everything we have done,” said Danielle Edwards, a sixth-grade teacher at Power Ranch Elementary. “The support from the community was fantastic.”

She noted that community support played a role in helping teachers achieve their goals.

“To hear parents walk up and thank us for everything we do was just a phenomenal feeling,” Edwards said.

Mesquite High English teacher Rachel Stafford thanked the GPS board at its meeting and specifically recognized Superintendent Shane McCord’s support of teachers during the walkout.

“I just knew that you cared about us,” she said.

The Gilbert Public Schools plan will cost the district over $12 million, though much of that will be offset by the increased funding provided by the state. The district will still have to account for $849,637 to cover the five percent staff raises.

Gilbert Public Schools previously budgeted for a 2.12 percent raise for staff in its 2018-2019 budget. It will transfer the additional $849,637 it needs from district additional assistance funds to cover the full five percent raise for staff, according to an email sent to parents.

DAA funds are state-provided capital budget money typically used for buildings, infrastructure, curriculum and technology. However, the district has the ability to transfer those funds to the maintenance and operations budget, according to the email.

The district’s total DAA funds for 2018-2019 will be an estimated $5,456,391.

While all board members supported the plan, GPS board member Reed Carr was quick to point out that doing so was not without risk due to rising state retirement contributions and healthcare benefit costs.

Carr noted that those rising costs will likely leave the district with $4 million to account for on next year’s budget.

“I am supporting this knowing the risks and hoping we can spend the next year mitigating those risks,” he said.