AJUSD Approves Employee Salary Formula & Benefits

Governing Board fills in pieces of employee package

By Dana Trumbull

The Apache Junction Unified School District Governing Board fit several additional pieces into the puzzle on Tuesday evening, February 27, as the Board and district leaders continued their work toward rebuilding the district. Components included a preliminary budget proposal that would commit an additional $600,000 to salary increases in 2018-19, a salary formula to be applied if additional funds become available, pay scales updated for long-term employees whose wages have been frozen while new hires were brought in with a higher base pay, contract language clarified to provide additional protections for all employees, an increased emphasis on maintaining accurate time sheets for hourly employees and adjustments to health care benefits to make them more affordable for all employees.

Budget Proposal

Although the numbers have not yet been received from the state indicating the actual dollar figures that will be allocated to the 2018-19 school budget, AJUSD Director of Finance Cindy Reichert has begun preparing for the new school year with a proposed budget based on early indicators, educated assumptions and years of experience in school finance. It’s an annual guessing game played by budget directors throughout Arizona school districts, necessitated by delayed decisions at the state legislature and the quick turnaround time in which school budgets must be submitted to the county once state funding decisions are received.

The proposed budget assumes two scenarios: one anticipates a 4% decline in enrollment, while the other projects a 3% decline. Known increases in expenditures include providing a no-cost premium option for employees’ health benefits ($150,000), Arizona State Retirement System employer contribution increases ($6,000), proposed salary increases ($600,000) and a transfer of funds into unrestricted capital ($400,000; this number is an educated guess in anticipation of a continued shortfall in capital funds allocation. Currently, the state distributes 15% of the capital outlay mandated by formula, necessitating a transfer of maintenance & operations discretionary funds into capital in order to keep buildings and buses operational). Total planned  “reductions” = $1,866,000 (4%) or $1,687,000 (3%).

Offsetting these anticipated costs, the budget applies inflationary funding, prop 123 allocations, savings from staff attrition (in conjunction with fewer students), department and school budget modifications, transportation modifications, a fund 013 increase (allowable for teacher compensation increases), indirect cost transactions (food service, civic center, community schools), savings through Smart Schools and carry-over funds.

Salary Solutions

The solution recommended by the Salary Advisory Committee and approved by the Board brings a formula-based approach to resolving many ongoing inequities.

The proposed initial payroll increase for 2018-19, including the increase in minimum wage from $10.50 to $11.00 ($80,000), will be approximately $600,000. The plan moves all non-minimum wage employees up one step, but then acknowledges long-time employees with an additional step on the pay schedule.

Overall, classified employees (support staff) will share 46% of additional funds as they become available, while a slightly higher percentage (53%) is allocated to move toward a more competitive range for teachers. Administrators do appear in the formula (1%); however, the resulting raise is less than a cost of living increase.

Although every employee group will receive an increase with this plan, the actual dollar amount of wage increases will be dependent on the amount of funds that become available. Across the board, pay increases will range between 2.5% and 5.4%.

Health Care Benefits

In addition to salary increases, 2018-19 will see a simplified Health Benefit plan that moves all employees into one tier, while providing options for low cost or no cost for employee coverage, depending on the selected deductible. The overall projected savings to employees will be $149,915. The added cost to the district will be approximately $130,262. These changes, recommended by a committee of certified and classified employees, align AJUSD with health benefits comparable to neighboring districts.

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