Lawmakers in favor of increasing teacher by taking responsibility from districts

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As teachers warn of a walk-out to demand a salary increase, lawmakers discuss the idea of taking the responsibility of teacher wages away from districts and into their own hands.

“One of the challenges is not just the dollar amount, but it’s that we don’t set teacher pay. That’s really a district decision,” House Speaker J.D. Mesnard says. “We are in the resource business. We give resources to school districts then they decide where that goes… The frustration the legislature is finding is we’re getting blamed for a lot of the teacher pay issue but it’s a function of district decision.”

Senate President Steve Yarbrough believes a walkout would be “dishonorable” and a “terrible act.” He says the number one priority of the year is to maximize teacher pay in the state.

“The average teacher salary in Arizona is $48,00o, we’ve put another $15,000 in their benefits,” Yarbrough says. “So the average counting the benefit package is $63,000 plus or minus. That may be a challenge for some folks but not for everybody.”

Many teachers are asking to be back at the numbers they were at in 2008, when their pay was at its highest. However, Mesnard says that’s not a fair base to go off of because they’re using an outlier as a goal.

“If you go just a couple years before it’s essentially the height of the economic expansion,” Mesnard says. “We are very close to a per people, adjusted for inflation basis that’s sort of the norm. Is the norm good enough? No, it’s not, but picking the highest of the high and using that as a reference point is always going to be a challenge.”

On the table now is an outline on how to get to the 20 percent salary increase that teachers are demanding. Part of that outline includes taking the responsibility of paying teachers away from the districts and into the hands of the legislature.

“I don’t know anyone who thinks teachers are overpaid,” Mesnard says. “I think teaching should be a profession where people want to go into it and they don’t have to worry about making ends meet.”

Sen. Steve Yarbrough: (R) Senate President
Rep. J.D. Mesnard: (R) House Speaker

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