Prop. 301 boosts teachers' salaries<br><i>Extra money tied to teacher, student performance</i>

Students at area schools are improving their skills and scores. And teachers are making more money.

In response to Proposition 301, which was approved by voters in 2000, teachers set goals designed to improve themselves and their students. In the Verde Valley, teachers targeted students' math, writing and language skills with an eye toward ultimate improvement on standardized tests.

Teachers also targeted their own professional development and performance evaluations.

On average, scores on AIMS and Stanford 9 are improving, and students are demonstrating year-to-year progress with essential skills.

According to a report released this week by the Arizona Office of the Auditor General, school districts in the Verde Valley and Sedona accomplished their individually set performance goals for 2003. Since part of the 301 money is tied directly to performance, teacher salaries or benefits got a boost.

Proposition 301 increased the state sales tax to raise additional money for education in Arizona. Under the proposition, at least 60 percent of the additional money must be used for teacher compensation. According to the auditor's report, districts statewide have used most of the money to increase teacher compensation. Some area districts used the money to help pay the rising premiums for health care in addition to increasing teacher salaries.

Districts were allowed under Proposition 301 to use part of the money to increase teachers' base pay. Some of the money earmarked for teacher compensation, however, must be tied to incentives and performance.

"I think Proposition 301 has been a godsend," said Julie Larson, superintendent of Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District. "We needed it. Our teachers appreciate the taxpayers' support."

Larson pointed out that 301money goes only to teachers and not to administrators or staff.

When Proposition 301 was on the ballot, one of its main selling points was that it would help bring teacher salaries in Arizona up so school districts could compete with states where salaries are considerably higher.

Larson said the national average for teachers' salaries in 2002-03 was $45,026, and the national average salary for beginning teachers in 2001-02 was $30,000.

Although teacher salaries in the Verde Valley have risen considerably with the 301 money, the only area school to reach the level of the national average is Mingus Union High School with an average teacher salary of nearly $46,000. The closest school district to Mingus in the area is Sedona-Oak Creek School District, where teachers average nearly $38,000. Clarkdale-Jerome Elementary School teachers average slightly more than $37,000.

But average teachers' salaries do not tell the entire story.

Kathleen Fleenor, superintendent of Clarkdale-Jerome, said the 301 money has been a definite help in improving teachers' salaries.

"But, on the negative side, as the valley grows, what we need are funds to attract young college graduates," she said.

Fleenor said her district pays beginning teachers about $23,000 per year, and that makes it difficult to recruit new teachers.

Beginning salaries is an advantage at Cottonwood-Oak Creek where beginning teachers receive almost $28,000. "Our entry level is higher than most [area] districts," Larson said.

Larson said there is more to a school district's appeal than the average salary. "You have to look at salaries and benefits."

Her district has used part of the 301 money to keep up with health insurance premiums, which rose 20 percent last year and will rise another 15 percent next year. The average salary for teachers in the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District dropped from $36,473 in 2002 to $33,561 this year. But because of the district picking up the additional cost of health insurance, Larson said, "They didn't lose any money."

Sharyl Allen, superintendent at Mingus Union High School District, agrees that teachers look at more than compensation when applying for a job.

"There are many things beyond salary," Allen said. "Salary is a piece of it. But there are many things at Mingus that help us hire and keep teachers."

She said one such thing is the number of mature teachers who are willing to mentor new teachers.

According to the Auditor General's analysis, on average, districts statewide reported that 301 money accounted for 10 percent of current teacher pay.


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