Over the course of the last few months, representative employees from all Apache Junction Unified School District schools and departments have met to research, discuss and rebuild the district’s salary structure. The efforts of this salary committee, working with consultant Vance Jacobson, JB Rewards Systems, resulted in a new salary structure that drives the district’s median pay scale from the 25th percentile to the 40th percentile, as compared to 25 similar and/or neighboring districts.
The recommendations were approved by the AJUSD Governing Board at the April 9 meeting, with the caveat that the committee would rejoin to address the six employees whose circumstances resulted in frozen wages under the plan.
According to Jacobson, in addition to having an overall pay scale that was lower than 75% of all Arizona school districts, AJUSD was dealing with a “preexisting lack of structure.” The district’s pay schedule and classifications had not been updated to evolve with changes in the district, education norms and changes to minimum wage over many years.
As they rebuilt the salary schedule, the salary committee incorporated “meaningful differences for different skill levels.” The previous schedule included increases as low as 6 cents between steps.
With every employee reclassified to normalize AJUSD employee classifications with national standards and then placed into the commensurate salary step, implementation will cost the district about $900,000. Funding for the increases is cobbled together with a 2% inflation adjustment from the state, an increase in per student funding (ADM), proposition 301 budget adjustments and prepaid insurance funds, combined with Governor Ducey’s promised 5% increase for teachers (based on 2016-17 funding year wages).
“When we started doing the numbers, we found that, if we set our salary ranges to where the center of the range matched our competitive target, we would break the bank,” explained Jacobson. “However, if we set the middle of our salary ranges at the 40th percentile of the market, we could afford this and a multi-year plan to move ahead on a cost-effective basis to get us up to a little bit more of an appreciable competitive level.
“We also identified about 20 or so instances where employees were moving into one step, but, in a perfect world, they would be a lot further down the scale. We designed a formula to give them special equity adjustments – not full tilt to a ‘perfect world’, but a ‘good faith effort’ for long-term employees who should probably get a trophy for patience [after enduring multiple years with pay freezes].”
Dr. Cruz added, “It is important to realize that not every employee will hit the 40th percentile; we can’t afford that this year. This is truly a best faith effort to try to make up for some of the things that have happened in the past, knowing that it is flawed.”
The committee also created a formula to equitably place new employees who already have years of experience on the scale without jumping over the pay rates of current employees with similar years of experience.
In discussion, Board members each expressed a strong reluctance to approve a schedule that froze the salaries of even a few long-term employees such as AJHS teacher Russ Young, who, with 41 years in the district was among the “handful” of employees listed between the 122nd through 126th percentile of their pay bracket.
“I can tell you that, during my tenure, I’ve experienced my share of pay freezes – probably more than anyone. Yet, my salary is scheduled to be frozen for next year,” he told Board members, speaking during Public Comments. “Unfortunately, the committee’s goal of making people feel valued didn’t apply to everyone. As a long term employee with 41 years of service, hours of professional development and uncompensated 70 hour work weeks being the norm for several years, one would think that service would be recognized.”
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Cruz clarified, “The folks who are frozen are not necessarily long-term employees. They are the ones who, for various reasons, are at the 120th percentile or higher in their specific band.”
With this point in mind, Board President Jodi Ehrlich amended the motion to approve the new salary schedule and raises with a caveat that the salary committee would meet again and return to the Board after considering the six frozen employees individually and finding a solution to compensate those who are long-term employees. The amended motion passed unanimously.
In addition to assisting the salary committee with research and analysis, JB Rewards Systems provided the district with administrative tools that will help ensure that the programs are maintained. The tools include decision support models and a technical system for measuring the content of a job and placing it in the right salary range. “This software looks at the job, not the person in the job,” said Jacobson.
JB Rewards Systems was retained by AJUSD through a purchasing consortium, partnering with 7 other districts in the contract. The approach saved about 30% in consultant fees.
Four Peaks Elementary School Principal Chad Cantrell, who served on the salary committee, commended the consultant’s work, “What really allowed us to nail things down was the work from Vance. The value that came from the survey and the tools provided, really laid the groundwork for informed decisions.”