COC Board Preview

School board members of the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District are scheduled to vote on the 2001-02 budget recommendations Monday night.

Members of the district's Budget Committee are requesting the board's approval on such items as a step-less salary schedule, dependent coverage premium sharing, staff reductions and a pay-for-performance model for 301 funds.

The committee's recommendations will make a difference for the district's 300 employees.

"The old salary schedule was first proposed in the 1920s," said Superintendent John Tavasci. "The new schedule will be pretty much like the real world."

But with change comes discussion.

Karen Berrett, president of the Cottonwood Education Association, said when she first was informed about the proposed change she wasn't "thrilled."

She has since concluded that there are "some negatives and some positives."

"Now, in past years, due to the state's lack of funding we have been frozen so there was no guarantee of a step anyway," she said. "So, I guess, the step-less salary schedule is what we have had for years."

Tavasci said the state's yearly 2-percent inflation benefit simply won't cover the existing salary schedule if the district experiences growth.

"The positive would be that you never bottom out," said Berrett. "The negative would be that there is no guaranteed step every year."

Due to this year's loss in enrollment, the district is looking at a $145,000 loss in revenue.

New teaching professionals will benefit from the proposed changes if approved Monday night.

According to Tavasci, the starting salary for teachers will move from $23,397 to $26,897.

The district's insurance costs are also rising, increasing 18.5 percent this budget year.

Full-time employees, said Tavasci, are covered.

"We're going to pick that up for the employees," he said. The district will also provide $1,000 toward dependent coverage for employees working 30 or more hours per week.

Part-time employees (working 20 or more hours) can count on the district picking up 50 percent of the employee's costs and kicking in $500 for dependent coverage.

To reduce expenditures, the district is also recommending staff reductions at every campus and class combinations at Oak Creek School and Cottonwood Elementary School.

"We've dropped a percent and a half in enrollment and reduced our staff accordingly," said Tavasci. "Class sizes are still solid."

And thanks to 301 funds, the district has an opportunity to provide teachers with increased compensation by June 2002 through a pay for performance model. The 301 Design Team headed by COCS Assistant Superintendent Julie Larson recommends that the model address accountability, knowledge and skills.

If approved, accountability will be measured through three performance goal areas: Stanford 9 test improvement for all grade levels, student improvement in language arts and a parent-satisfaction rating of 80 percent.

The design team addresses 301's knowledge and skill compensation by rewarding professional development, leadership skills and mentoring.

Berrett is happy that 301 funds result in salary raises for teaching professionals but adds, "The bad news is that this money wasn't specified for classified employees and it has caused disharmony," she said. "It has caused hard feelings because the teachers are receiving a raise in their pay and the other employees aren't receiving the same percentage."

According to Tavasci, classified employees will receive a 4- to 5-percent salary increase under the proposed budget while teachers will have to wait on the Arizona Legislature before a final 301 contribution is determined.

"The bill would allow you to enjoy weighted funds rather than unweighted," explained Tavasci.

The difference for the district is $87,000.

The District's board meeting is scheduled Monday at 7 p.m. in the District Office Board Room, 1 N. Willard in Cottonwood.


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