Valley schools feel strain of minimum wage increase

Posted at 7:02 PM, Jan 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-12 00:22:25-05

School districts across the Valley are feeling the pinch to their budgets after Arizona voters passed a minimum wage hike.

Thanks to Proposition 206, a number of employees just got a pay raise — cafeteria workers, bus assistants, groundskeepers, just to name a few.

However, Danielle Airey, a spokesperson for the Peoria School District, said the move is really stretching their budget.

"We only have one large pot of money to fund all the various aspects of our schools," she said. "This will just be an added layer of complexity that we'll be looking at."

The new law increased the minimum wage and is providing for paid sick leave for some workers — but it's also creating a monster challenge to some budgets.

For the Peoria School District, it will cost about $2 million dollars by 2020 when minimum wage reaches $12 an hour, according to Airey.

Over at Mesa Public Schools, it will cost them approximately $1.3 million dollars through 2018 when minimum wage increases to $10.50 an hour; not to mention an extra $900,000 a year for paid sick leave every year, according Shaun Holmes, assistant superintendent of human resources at Mesa Public Schools. 

When funding is limited, something has to give.

"They'll leave no stone unturned as they look to see what we have available and how they can meet all of our needs," Airey said.

Mesa Public Schools, the largest district in the state, is already dealing with a teacher shortage.

"This is a difficult enough teacher market as it is to find, recruit and retain quality teachers," Holmes said. "We need to increase teacher pay. But this issue alone is single-handedly going to cripple our ability to increase teacher pay."

And they expect a ripple effect; an issue of fairness.

"Minimum wage just rose by $1.95 an hour. So if we were to raise the pay for all of our employees by $1.95 an hour, which would maintain equity in our system, that would cost us approximately $13 million," Holmes said.

Both Holmes and Airey said offering attractive teacher salaries is a priority. 

Over at the Phoenix Union High School District, Craig Pletenik, the district's spokesperson, said the district is "actually in good shape having eliminated the last two steps in our classified (support staff) salary schedule prior to this school year."

Their lowest hourly rate is $10.17 to start with no experience. A person with some experienced and education in the lowest step can make $10.97, according to Pletenik. 

"Our governing board pushed for this to provide a 'living wage' for our lowest paid employees," Pletenik said.

School districts are now anxiously awaiting the governor's plan for funding education.