By Philip Haldiman
Peoria Unified School District teachers make eight to 20% less than comparable school districts in the Valley, according to a study commissioned by the district.
The compensation study, conducted by Phoenix-based accounting, auditing and consulting firm, Heinfeld Meech, found PUSD certified teachers have lower starting and average salaries than the school districts surveyed.
District spokeswoman Danielle Airey said the study was done to adequately recruit and retain qualified employees.
“Our teachers and staff work tirelessly to educate and enrich the lives of our students and we know they deserve higher pay. We have made painful cuts over the years to always prioritize salaries, however many other districts are able to direct more to teacher pay through additional funding streams, like a larger override, higher participation fees, etc,” she said. “This study is just the first step in our process, which started more than a year ago, to examine salaries and make recommendations that will move the needle in the area of salaries.”
The school districts studied were comparable in size and location to PUSD: Chandler, Deer Valley, Paradise Valley and Gilbert unified school districts. Limited data was collected from Glendale, Kyrene, and Washington elementary school districts, as well as Mesa and Scottsdale unified school districts.
The study found the average hiring salary for PUSD elementary school teachers is 20% lower than peer districts and the average hiring salary for high school teachers is 19% lower.
Additionally, the study, which was finalized in March, found the average actual salary for elementary school teachers is 18% and the average actual salary for high school teachers is 8% lower.
The PUSD governing board, on May 30, approved a 15% override to appear on the November ballot that could boost teacher pay and change these statistics.
A maintenance and operations override supports things such as school programs, teacher salaries, and allows for the hiring of more school counselors and psychologists.
If approved the proposed override would increase the current 13% override to 15%, which would increase a tax based on assessed home values. Under the current 13% override, a homeowner with a home value of $100,000 pays $145 in taxes annually. Under the proposed 15% override, it is estimated to increase to $168 annually, or about $2 per month.
Governing Board member David Sandoval said the recession has ended, but student-teacher ratios have remained at recession levels or worse. Additionally, he said, many of the classes and programs that were cut have yet to be reinstated.
The study stated three of four comparison districts have overrides at 15%. Mr. Sandoval said updating the PUSD override will put the district at peer levels.
“Research shows again and again that teachers are the single most important factor in student achievement,” Mr. Sandoval said. “The Peoria Unified School District has a steadfast focus on ensuring that our teachers and staff feel valued.”
Gov. Doug Ducey recently signed an $11.8 billion state budget that included the second phase of a three-year plan to raise teacher pay 20%, hire more school counselors and police officers, help teachers pay for college and fund school construction.
Wayne Magee, who pays PUSD property taxes, said this along with a PUSD tax increase amounts to double dipping.
He said the starting salary level is lower than many, but Arizona’s lure is its relatively low cost of living and historical relative cost to taxation levels.
“We better adopt an attitude of fiscal restraint now because there is increasing evidence that this economy we are currently enjoying will go through another correction sooner than later,” Mr. Magee said. “Plus what is the impact on pension funding with considerably higher taxes in a short timeline? Is anyone, elected or otherwise, honestly assessing and evaluating total lifecycle cost effectively when making these decisions? I think it’s all timing and about the moment’s momentum.”
Average hiring teacher salary in PUSD for elementary school is about $33,000 and for high school is $34,000. In the Deer Valley Unified School District, it is $39,000 for elementary and high school, according to the report.
The average actual salary for PUSD elementary school teachers is about $41,000, and for high school teachers about $44,000.
In Deer Valley it is about $45,000 and $42,000 for elementary and high school, respectively, according to the report.
By comparison, at Legacy Traditional Peoria, a smaller charter school, the average full-time teacher earned about $51,000 during the 2018-2019 school year.
PUSD President Monica Ceja Martinez said she wants numbers on the expense and the impact the district has on high attrition.
She said in any company — private or public — the number one operating expense is people, which includes training new employees, she said.
Ms. Ceja Martinez said there are consequences to low compensation — loss in relationships with students, moral, Peoria culture, years of expertise, and the list goes on.
“The override is an increase in taxes upfront but the investment will reduce costs in the long run when we can retain top talent,” she said.