A bus driver at the Santa Cruz Valley Unified School District fuels up in this file photo. SCVUSD bus drivers and monitors are among the employees affected by a new wage scale at the district.

The governing board of the Santa Cruz Valley Unified School District unanimously approved 3-percent raises for classified staff starting in the 2022-23 school year.

The board also approved a new pay grade for classified support staff starting in 2022-23. According to the district, new hires will be paid according to the new scale, while current classified support staff were either placed on the new grade or given a 3-percent increase, whichever is more beneficial to the employee.

SCVUSD spokeswoman Shannon Enciso wrote in an email Thursday that of the district's 162 classified hourly workers, 123 were placed on the new pay scale and 39 received a 3-percent raise.

"All other staff, professional, certified and certified administrators received a 3-percent increase," she said.

"Classified" employees are those working in support or professional positions that do not require certification in education, Enciso explained. That includes professional classified (exempt) positions, such as human resources and business manager, as well as classified (hourly) support staff, including secretaries and bus drivers.

Documents provided by the district show that the pay scale revamp lifts a number of hourly positions slightly above the state minimum wage of $12.80 per hour. For example:

• Bus monitor. Currently a Grade 4 position with a starting and midpoint wage of $12.80, it becomes a Grade 1 position with a minimum hourly pay of $12.96.

• Attendance clerk. Now a Grade 7 position with a starting and midpoint wage of $12.80, it becomes a Grade 2 position paid at a minimum of $13.35 per hour.

• Security guard. Now a Grade 8 position with a starting and midpoint wage of $12.80, it becomes a Grade 3 position paid at a minimum of $13.75 per hour.

At the upper end of the scale, licensed practical nurse is now a Grade 20 position paid on a range that starts at $18.25 per hour. Under the new system, it will be a Grade 16 job starting at $20.19 per hour.

According to the district, the total cost of the staff raises in the 2023 fiscal year is $565,811. In a news release, Business Manager Isela Brown called it "a significant investment, probably the most prominent investment our district has done for our hourly employees.”

Recent history

In a news release, SCVUSD said it hired a consulting firm to conduct a compensation study in 2015, then implemented a "more competitive" pay placement guide for classified staff in July 2016 for classified staff. But according to Human Resource Manager Julieta Quiroz, "the rise in minimum wage just six months later (in January 2017) negated our efforts.”

A voter-approved ballot measure boosted the state’s hourly minimum wage from $8.05 in 2016 to $10 in 2017, then to $10.50 in 2018, $11 in 2019, $12 in 2020 and $12.15 in 2021. It's been at $12.80 since Jan. 1, 2022.

In the meantime, the #RedForEd grassroots labor movement won hard-fought raises for Arizona's teachers. As a result, SCVUSD teachers were given 10-percent raises starting in the 2018-19 school year, and administrative and classified professional staff saw a 3-percent raise. Hourly staff earning above minimum wage received a 5-percent raise, and those with 10 or more years of service also got an extra $1.05 per hour.

Minimum-wage workers weren't given raises beyond the voter-mandated yearly increases, which included a 5-percent bump in 2018 and a 28-percent increase over the five years since the initial boost to $10 an hour in 2017.

SCVUSD said the continuous minimum wage increases created a financial situation known as "compression."

"Compression occurs when one group of employees are given raises disproportionate to another group of employees, causing the distinction between the two wage groups to 'compress,'" it said in its news release.

The district’s existing wage schedule now includes nine different grades with a minimum hourly pay of $12.80. Under the new system set to take effect in July, the 17 grades have progressively higher minimums.

In 2020, the district said, it hired another consulting firm, Heinfield Meech, to review its compensation schedule and address the compression issue. During the 2021-2022 school year, an Interest Based Bargaining (IBB) team comprised of administrators, classified and certified employees studied ways to reducing compression, using the Heinfield Meech review as their guide. 

In April, the district said, Quiroz and Brown, both part of the IBB team, proposed the new pay scale to the SCVUSD Governing Board for approval. 

“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” Board Clerk Brad Beach said prior to the unanimous vote, according to the SCVUSD news release.

The raises come amid a steadily rising cost of living. Inflation, which refers to increases in the cost of goods and services, hit 8.5 percent in the United States for the 12-month period ending in March.

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