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TUSD giving pay bump to teachers who take on extra work

Teachers in the Tucson Unified School District will be paid more for taking on extra work — including larger classes or filling in for higher-salaried teachers — the Governing Board decided Tuesday, as the district faces a staff shortage with school set to start next week.

The Board cast three 5-0 votes that revised agreements with the Tucson Education Association, the union for TUSD teachers and staff, during the last meeting before the school year begins.

TUSD also codified changes that the board had approved in meetings leading up to June 30, including raising the minimum wage in the district to $15 an hour, and setting pay rates for union teachers assigned or voluntarily covering additional classes. Teachers will now earn $25-$75 per extra class period they assume— $25 for class periods shorter than an hour, $50 for classes longer than an hour but less than a half day and $75 for classes lasting more than a half day. Teachers will earn another $2.75 per hour if they’re substituting for teachers in higher pay grades.

TUSD will start the new school year on August 4 with about 120 teacher vacancies, Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo told reporters last week. However, he said a few of those vacancies could be filled in the final days of summer break.

The district is also looking at vacant positions to decide which ones can be filled after this school year begins through a strategy called “equalization,” Trujillo said.

The strategy involves eliminating small classes that are without teachers, with those students moving into other classrooms that have teachers. TUSD plans to eliminate several vacancies this way, but that means filling other classes past capacity, which triggers “over-cap” pay for teachers under existing union agreements.

The three motions passed Tuesday include revisions to the primary and consensus agreements between TEA and TUSD and a memorandum of understanding setting rates for substitutes.

The memo of understanding was “representative of many, many conversations (with TEA) that happened throughout the school year,” Maricela Meza, TUSD director of employee relations, said to the board, and is meant to give “gratitude and compensation” to teachers “to deal with the staffing shortage.”

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The Board approved a $2,000 raise to teacher's base pay with an additional $500 going to starting teachers. The lowest pay grade for TUSD teachers is now $44,900 per year, and the highest is $84,400 per year. 

TUSD administrators and other district staff are also set to receive $500 raises and TUSD social workers will see $2,500 raises. 

The revised agreement also changed the pay grades for stipends for teachers who coach sports or sponsor activities in middle and high schools.

Stipends will now be set at $1,000 for the lowest extra duty pay grade, which is for sponsoring middle school clubs such as drama, student council and yearbook, and $6,400 for the highest grade, which is limited to coaching high school football.

TUSD shortened the period for teachers to enroll in health insurance from 30 days to three weeks. That open enrollment period also moved, and teachers now have to sign up for health insurance during the school year, instead of during the summer.

Several changes to the hiring policy were also made. Job fairs are now the only time when hiring can happen on the spot. Teacher no longer have to be in a position for at least six months before they can be transferred, promoted or voluntarily demoted.

For former TUSD employees, the revised consensus agreement now specifies that teachers or staff who retired, voluntarily resigned or had a contract end can be rehired. The previous agreement hadn't laid out eligibility for rehiring. Teachers with expired certificates or licenses are also eligible for rehiring once their "credentials are reestablished," according to the revisions. 

The district is looking for the best options to keep kids in classrooms despite the vacancies across schools and grade levels. One idea being considered is outsourcing math instruction to virtual teachers through a Chicago-based company. The Board didn't bring the item up for a vote at the Tuesday meeting, but it could still be approved during the school year. New hires will continue to "trickle in" during the school year, Trujillo said.

TUSD is bolstering security this school year, with visitors to campuses facing more restrictions and supervision, Trujillo said last week. The Board voted 3-2 to hire six new armed officers to patrol campuses. TUSD is the only district in Arizona with an armed security force.

This school year will also be the first in decades in which TUSD is free from court-mandated oversight of desegregation efforts. A federal judge ruled last week that the district had "demonstrated a good faith commitment to eliminate the vestiges of past discrimination."

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Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.

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