School officials threaten lawsuit over proposal forcing them to raise teacher pay

Luige del Puerto//May 9, 2017

School officials threaten lawsuit over proposal forcing them to raise teacher pay

Luige del Puerto//May 9, 2017


The lobbying arm of Arizona’s school boards is threatening to sue over a proposed amendment that would require 50 percent of inflationary funding increases for K-12 education to be used for teacher pay raises.

The Arizona School Boards Association said the amendment by House Speaker J.D. Mesnard would violate the terms of the settlement in Cave Creek v. DeWit, the long-running case over inflationary funding that was settled with voters’ approval of Proposition 123 last year.

“We could very well end up back in court,” said ASBA spokeswoman Heidi Vega. “Inflation adjustments are no-strings-attached money to cover the needs of district operating expenses.”

Gov. Doug Ducey’s spokesman agreed and said they are not interested in reopening the settlement to add the new requirement.

Vega said placing restrictions on inflation funding “ties districts’ hands and is a distraction from the fact that the Legislature continues to fail to fulfill its responsibilities.”

Republican lawmakers who vote for a 2 percent teacher raise in the budget last week came under fire from Democrats and education groups for not making the raise bigger.

Mesnard said he wanted to offer the amendment to make a point that schools already have the money to provide consistent teacher raises, and that school districts should be using the built-in inflation growth to provide inflation raises every year.

“I mean this makes the point that there’s already supposed to be a cost of living adjustment for teacher salaries, among others, every year. So this idea that the raise we gave didn’t keep up with that or the districts are totally off the hook for teacher salaries, I think this single amendment makes the point that that is not the case,” Mesnard said.

However, he noted that because the inflation increase for school funding is voter protected, it would need a three-fourths vote in both chambers to go into effect.

Mesnard said he hopes Democrats join him in approving the amendment and bill, but he hasn’t spoken with Democratic leadership. He said the amendment isn’t just a stunt to score political points, but if Democrats oppose it, it would undercut their complaints about not providing bigger teacher raises.

“It would be really interesting to see how people react to this given their various political statements,” he said, adding there’s “fatigue” among lawmakers for getting blamed for teacher salaries, when that decision really falls to the local school boards.

The amendment would dedicate roughly $40 million to increase teacher salaries, or roughly a 1 percent raise. That’s on top of the 2 percent raise lawmakers approved in the FY18 budget.

When legislators earlier pushed legislation to make public schools account for the money they get from Proposition 123, they also conceded there’s no strings attached to those dollars.

The proposition came about as a settlement to a lawsuit alleging that lawmakers violated Proposition 301, a 2000 ballot proposition that mandated annual inflation-based funding increases to K-12 education.

Lawmakers had failed to increase funding as required by that law during the Great Recession, and school officials sued.

The Supreme Court later ruled that lawmakers broke the law. The state ultimately reached a deal with the plaintiffs to provide an extra $3.5 billion to schools over the decade.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.