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Bonus or pay raise for teachers?

Teachers rallied at the Arizona Capitol on May 2, 2017, after Rep. John Allen said teachers got second jobs to increase their lifestyle and buy boats. Teachers chanted that they wanted a 4 percent raise from the state. (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)

Teachers rallied at the Arizona Capitol on May 2, 2017, after Rep. John Allen said teachers got second jobs to increase their lifestyle and buy boats. Teachers chanted that they want a 4 percent raise from the state. (Photo by Rachel Leingang, Arizona Capitol Times)

A pay raise for K-12 teachers included in the state’s $9.8 billion spending plan may only be a bonus, education groups warned.

Republican leaders in the Arizona House and Senate, along with Gov. Doug Ducey, negotiated a 2 percent raise for public school teachers to be phased in over two years. The budget deal, which is still under debate in both chambers, allocates $34 million to fund a 1 percent pay raise in fiscal year 2018. The agreement also includes language stating that “the Legislature and governor intend” to appropriate $68 million in fiscal year 2019 to cover another 1 percent raise, also for teachers.

But the budget deal doesn’t say what happens next.

“It’s a bonus, and not a salary increase,” Heidi Vega, spokeswoman for the Arizona School Boards Association, said in an email. “We’ve been hearing the words ‘teacher pay increase,’ but it’s really a bonus that isn’t added in the base level (funding), so districts will not have a mechanism to sustain this increase if the Legislature decides to take it away next year or the year after, thus making it temporary and not permanent.”

Vega said the public may not know why it’s important to put the pay increase in the baseline funding for schools, which would allow the increase to keep up with inflation.

Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, said he has talked with representatives and the governor’s office, and received assurances that the money for the salary boost will be in the budget for the next two years.

But it is a line item in the budget, not an ongoing spending increase that is assumed in the base-level funding for schools, which would have made it more secure, he said.

“That’s harder to scale back than just simply eliminating a line item in the budget,” he said.

Line item appropriations get eliminated in budgets all the time, he said. For instance, the state once had a line item to fund full-day kindergarten, which is now gone, he added.

Kirk Adams, Ducey’s chief of staff, said arguments that funding for the pay hike would be safer in the baseline are disingenuous, as lawmakers have the authority to change funding formulas, just as they can theoretically renege on a promise to maintain the 2 percent raise.

The pay hike is structured as a line item in the budget, rather than as an addition to the baseline funding formula for Arizona public and charter schools, “to make sure the money goes to the teachers,” said Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato.

Essentially, the governor’s office does not trust district school governing boards or charter school officials to expend the funds on teachers because if the money is in the baseline, it would be up to those local officials to actually give a pay raise.

“Put it in the formula, and kiss the teacher raises goodbye,” Scarpinato tweeted on Thursday night.

Scarpinato said the funding will eventually be added into the baseline formula in fiscal year 2020. He called claims that the teacher pay increase isn’t permanent “a total lie.”

“The money is permanent. It’s there forever,” he said. “I think that this is a rumor that some folks are attempting to spread in order to delegitimize what is a real, permanent, lasting raise for teachers.”

Technically, there’s no guarantee that even the second half of the 2 percent pay hike will take effect in fiscal year 2019. Republican legislators and the governor’s promised to follow through is backed by an intent language in the budget deal, but intent doesn’t translate to actual funding.

And legally, current lawmakers cannot tie the hands of future lawmakers, who may change their minds about the pay hike, a point not lost on the Arizona School Boards Association and the AEA.

School boards use baseline funding to craft their own spending plans because those dollars, adjusted for inflation each year, are almost always assured to be in future state budgets, said Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, who serves on the Pendergast Elementary School District board.

Districts don’t count on dollars that aren’t in the baseline to continue year after year, he said.

“What does that mean, if it’s not in the baseline? That means that this money does not go into the baseline, which means as a school board, as a school district, you cannot give that as an ongoing pay raise,” Quezada said.

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