The Amphitheater Public Schools Governing Board unanimously approved salary increases for its 1,900 teachers and other certified and classified employees May 13, adopting three different scenarios for payment depending on the amount of money the district receives from the state.

With an expectation that state funding will not increase dramatically due to budget shortfalls, board members and representatives from the Amphi Education Association, the district's teachers union, praised the efforts of the negotiators on both sides to cooperate and compromise.

"It's a good template for the future," Board member Mike Prout said. "If we can do this when the well is nearly dry, we can do it when the well is much fuller."

In each case, teachers and other certified and professional employees, such as school nurses, would receive at least a 2 percent salary increase. If the state provides more money to the district, the increase could go as high as 3 percent.

The approved salary package included three scenarios:

Scenario A is conditioned on Amphi receiving up to, but not more than, $500,000 from the state above the $74.6 million the district now receives. If this occurs, the plan guarantees a 2 percent increase to all certified and classified employees. Classified employees are primarily support service staff such as bus drivers and teachers aides.

Scenario B is conditioned on Amphi receiving between $500,000 and $1 million above its $74.6 million budget. Under this plan, employees would receive a 2 to 3 percent salary increase and an increase of up to $100 per person in cafeteria allowance. The allowance is money available to employees to put toward any coverage the district offers, most commonly health insurance. Both increases would correlate to the amount of additional state money is received.

Scenario C is conditioned on the district receiving at least $1 million in extra funding from the state. If this occurs, employees will receive a full 3 percent salary increase and $100 in cafeteria allowance.

Each adopted scenario also increases the school year from 177 to 178 days, to comply with Proposition 301, funds the 2003 Early Retirement Class and decreases the employee life insurance policy from $25,000 to $20,000.

"A life insurance rate increase was coming," Superintendent Vicki Balentine said, "and in order to keep the cost stable for the district and its employees, coverage had to be lowered."

Depending on the employee's job classification, the Prop 301 increase will result in total workdays of 204 or 207. AEA President John Lewandowski said the union is still seeking payment from the Prop. 301 increase last year from 176 to 177 days.

The issue is being addressed as a grievance and did not factor into negotiation discussions for this year's salary increases, Lewandowski said.

Despite the stalemate of the grievance, which has been before the superintendent since last Fall, Lewandowski said the union is pleased negotiations with the district resulted in a positive outcome despite possible funding shortages from the state.

"The bad news has nothing to do with the district," he said. "It has to do with the (state) legislature."

In addition to the approval of new employee contracts, the governing board adopted a revision to its 2002-2003 budget, increasing the district' s funds for capital improvements but lowering the overall amount of money in its general fund.

According to Amphi Finance Director Constance Cigliana, school districts are given the opportunity to revise their current budgets in May in part to correct for accounting errors in the state's assessment of the number of students in each district and how much money the state will provide based on those student counts.

In Amphi's case, the state undercounted the number of students resulting in a shortfall of about $534,000 that would have otherwise been provided by the state, Cigliana said. Though the exact number of undercounted students is still being reconciled, the approved amendment corrected the 2002-2003 budget for that amount, she said.

However, increasing the number of days in the school year, as required by Prop. 301, led to an increase in transportation and other costs incorrectly factored into the district's 2002-2003 budget. A reconciliation of the student count and these increased costs left the district with $41,500 more in unrestricted capital, but at a $27,500 loss to its general fund limit, Cigliana said.

In other action, the governing board:

Appointed Monica Nelson as principal of Coronado K-8 School, 3401 E. Wilds Road.

Recognized the district's Native American Education Coordinator Anna Chana, who is leaving Amphi after 22 years of service.

Approved 21 employees for the Early Retirement Phase-Out Program and continued funding for previously approved participants.

Approved a long-range technology plan for the district, making it eligible to continue receiving various technology grants and funding from the state.

Heard complaints from four parents and students at Canyon del Oro High School and Cross Middle School, which feeds into CDO, regarding the cancellation of first-year German foreign language classes at the high school. Board member Mike Prout suggested the governing board look into matter.


By Patrick Cavanaugh

The Arizona Legislature's protracted budget wrangling has led the Marana Unified School District Governing Board to hold off issuing firm contracts to its teachers for the upcoming school year until it knows how much money it will receive from the state.

The uncertainties in the state budget did not prevent the board from approving a $98,000 annual contract for Rick Lesko, who takes the helm as the district's superintendent next month.

In lieu of firm contracts, the MUSD board voted unanimously at its meeting May 13 to instead issue letters of intent to veteran teachers it expects to return next year. The district is still in negotiations with the Marana Education Association, the district's teachers' union, on final terms of the contracts.

"So in other words, you're saying the state not having finalized its budget we have no idea how much money is available to us to put into the contracts we would issue and it would be a guess?" MUSD Governing Board President Dan Post asked Lesko.

Lesko, currently MUSD's assistant superintendent who is overseeing negotiation for the district, told Post the district could have offered contracts based on state funding estimates as the Amphitheater Public Schools recently did, but he believed issuing the letters of intent was the more "cautious" way to proceed.

"At this point, it's uncertain … I think our staff has worked hard to get into a ballpark. But as far as a specific state budget that has yet to be finalized, we all felt we would be more comfortable if we proceeded carefully in this matter," Lesko said.

Facing an almost $1 billion shortfall, legislators and Gov. Janet Napolitano are still battling for a budget compromise. Legislative budget proposals opposed by Napolitano have contained significant cuts for K-12 education.

Pam Simon, president of the MEA, said her union did not object to the letters of intent, although she questioned whether the letters would be sent to teachers on annual "year-end contracts" and teachers newly hired from outside the district.

Lesko said the letters would be sent to all new teachers hired and approved by the board.

"The idea is we're proceeding in good faith and that we have every intention of offering you a contract, once we finish negotiations. But for public consumption, the reason negotiations are at this point is strictly because the situation with the state budget and the uncertainties inherent in the budget," Lesko said.

State law requires contracts be issued by May 15. The letters meet the requirement.

A copy of the form letter sent to the teachers by Lesko and obtained from the district reads:

"Your actual contract will be finalized as soon as reasonably possible after the Arizona Legislature completes its budgeting process for public schools. The salary for 2003-2004 will not be less than that for 2002-2003. Unless the Arizona Legislature fails to fund the increase required by Prop. 301, or makes other drastic, unanticipated changes in the budget laws for Arizona School Districts, a salary increase will be included in your contract."

Lesko's own contract approved unanimously by the board without discussion will provide him $98,000 annually in salary and pay for his health and life insurance.

In addition, Lesko will receive a car allowance of $500 per month, use of a personal computer and an additional $2,000 per year if and when he completes his doctor of education degree. He will also receive a $500 per month "business and professional activity stipend," according to a copy of the contract obtained under a public records request.

Lesko, who earns $86,763 annually as an assistant superintendent, replaces retiring Superintendent Wade McLean June 30.

McLean signed a contract in January that will pay him $77,000 annually after he retires to serve as a consultant on district real estate projects and a "special assistant" to Lesko. McLean is paid $140,000 annually as superintendent, plus benefits.

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