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N4T Investigators: Retired teachers seek withheld funds - KVOA | KVOA.com | Tucson, Arizona

N4T Investigators: Retired teachers seek withheld funds

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TUCSON -

In the year 2000, the Sales Tax for Education Act or Prop. 301 was passed in Arizona. 301 increased the sales tax to fund education, promising teachers more money.

The problem is, over the last several years, performance pay has been withheld and that fund has ballooned to $9.5 million dollars. That's money that legally must be paid to teachers within the district.

An amended disbursement plan was passed Tuesday which will increase payments to teachers and draw the fund down by the end of this school year, however the plan excludes some, who say, they want the money they were promised.

Cynthia Cruz taught in the Tucson Unified School District for 23 years, and retired in 2015.

“When I started in TUSD I had a superintendent and by the time I left I was on my seventh superintendent,” Cruz said.

Despite serving more than two decades in the classroom, Cruz was told she's ineligible to receive any of the Prop. 301 funds, even though she was still employed in the district for years when that money was withheld.

“It's considered a gift if they give it to us even though we earned it,” Cruz said.

The district says the only way retired teachers can have access to the money is by returning to work. Board member Michael Hicks says this is unfair.

“I'm in favor of drawing this down but I think we're snubbing the individuals who retired last year who was eligible who is not going to get this,” Hicks said.  

We asked Superintendent Dr. H.T. Sanchez why funds from Prop. 301 haven't been properly disbursed in recent years.

“Each year we have to budget as if every teacher is going to meet the full criteria for the pay for performance dollars that are given to us under the 301 plan by the state,” Dr. Sanchez said. “Not every teacher participates, not every teacher finishes a year and not every teacher meets the full criteria so there's always a residual amount that's left at the end of the year.”

Despite the explanation, Cruz feels those who recently retired are getting the shaft.

“I already earned that money, a lot of teachers earned that money,” Cruz said.

But Dr. Sanchez says those who don't meet the criteria are not allowed, by law, to receive the funding.

“The money has to go to people who are currently plan eligible,” Dr. Sanchez said. “We can't distribute any monies to anybody who doesn't meet the criteria - somebody who's retired, somebody who's no longer employed.”

While the vote was a win for current teachers, many agree, that recent retirees are getting snubbed.

“Generally people are upset but they're not surprised,” Cruz said.

“I wish there was a way to take care of people who retired going all the way back to 2000,” Dr. Sanchez said. “We're bound by statute and that's what we have to work with."

District officials say Cruz and other retired teachers can go back to work for the Spring semester and re-qualify for the funds as long as they've been retired for at least one full year. 

If you have a story you would like us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line at 520-955-4444.

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