By Cecilia Chan
Matt Weaver said he took a 20 percent pay cut when he came to work for Deer Valley Unified School District a year ago.
As a result, the family and consumer science teacher at Deer Valley Elementary School said he has learned to like oatmeal, not make contributions to his retirement account and tell his children, sorry, no Christmas this year.
“I went from a fairly good living to barely scraping by,” the 20-year education veteran told the Governing Board last week. “I am 44 years old and my mother has to send me grocery money from Pennsylvania. There is a problem here.”
Mr. Weaver and a handful of other teachers and counselors spoke for better compensation before the board just before it approved a 1 percent pay raise for teachers.
“We want to be valued,” said Las Brisas Elementary School teacher Kelley Fisher, a 16-year veteran with the district.
She said teachers did not come to Deer Valley to be rich and famous but to make a difference, working 50 hours a week. She said the district would not need to hire new teachers each year if it gives current teachers better pay.
Maria Leyva of Deer Valley Education Association said teachers feel they are overworked and under-appreciated. The union president asked the board to pass a resolution for a permanent annual salary increase for employees until a salary schedule can be brought back.
Board member Darcy Tweedy said she was disheartened to see no staff report back on suggestions she made at an earlier meeting for cuts in things such as travel so teachers can be paid more.
“We keep hearing there is no money,” said Ms. Tweedy, a teacher. “But there is money for other things.”
If the district truly has no money then it should act poor for the rest of the year, she added.
“It’s insulting to employees,” she said. “We need to start valuing employees and not things.”
Her comments garnered claps from audience members, many who wrote red T-shirts in solidarity for better pay. Arizona ranks near the bottom nationwide in school funding.
Board member Jenny Frank said she also was disappointed there was not more money for employee raises.
She agreed with Ms. Tweedy the district in going forward should look for ways to cut other expenses.
Board member Ann O’Brien, however, noted Deer Valley does not receive the same amount of funding like other districts such as Phoenix Union High School and Alhambra Unified School districts.
“Not every student is worth the same amount of money in Arizona,” she said, noting Phoenix Union can offer $10,000 more for teachers than Deer Valley because it gets more funding.
She said she does not want the misconception that it is the board or superintendent that decides the budget for the district.
And, she said, the district does not decide how much money it gets from the state.
That may be true, Ms. Frank said but the district can determine how the money is spent.
President Kim Fisher jumped in, saying Title 1 schools and desegregation funding help boost some districts’ budgets. She said the district does not have that many Title 1 schools.(Deer Valley has 12 Title I schools, which means the campuses receive federal funding to supplement the schools’ existing programs).
More than a dozen school districts in the state are under a federal court order that allows them to levy property taxes without voter approval to address education inequality.
Ms. Fisher said Deer Valley receives about $8,000 in state and federal funding per student while Phoenix Union gets $12,000 to $15,000 per student.
She said it is frustrating to see the funding inequality between districts.
“We do control how we spend it and I believe we do everything possible to get it into the classroom,”she said. “I do believe the board will do everything in its power to find additional funds. We value our teachers but we have an entire district that must run and we can’t cut other vital things.”
Ms. Frank said she did not believe there was a single educator in the room who did not know Arizona underfunds education and “to lecture those people, our employees on that fact, is insulting.
“I don’t think anybody meant to be insulting but from a teacher’s perspective, I know how that would make me feel sitting on the other side of the dais.”
Ms. Fisher said she did not believe everyone knows how a budget actually comes about.
“If anybody is offended, I’m sorry, you know school finance but there may be someone in the room who does not,” she said. “Not everybody knows school finances.”
She said employees groups should not be fighting each other.
“We don’t have to be against each other,” she said. “We are a family, a team. It’s time to start acting like one.”