AJUSD Governing Board approves resolution to support educators; Statewide walk-out approved by 78% of educators
By Dana Trumbull
The grassroots group Arizona Educators United (AEU) and the Arizona Education Association (AEA: teachers’ union) conducted a joint press conference at approximately 9 p.m., Thursday, April 19, 2018, to announce the results of the statewide vote. With 57,000 educators responding, 78% voted in favor of a walk-out.
On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, April 23-25, educators and supporters will begin their days with a “walk-in,” giving districts, parents and community members time to arrange child care alternatives. The walk-out will begin on Thursday, April 26 and continue for an indefinite period, pushing legislators to create a plan to address the group’s five goals with sustainable funding and without sweeping funds from other at-risk groups.
AJUSD has been reaching out to parents throughout the week with information about how a walk-out would affect the school year and the students. In particular, the Food Services department has prepared individual food boxes to assist low income families who depend on schools to provide nourishing meals.
Apache Junction school district teachers, support staff, administrators, board members, parents and community members have been actively involved in the grassroots effort, dubbed #RedForEd, for the last three months, protesting the underfunding of education. Many have participated in the marches at the state capital. Even more have staged walk-ins at the schools and joined online networking groups, uniting with thousands of educators from all over the state and, of course, wearing red shirts in support of education every Wednesday.
Inspired by the #RedForEd movement that has worked its way from West Virginia, through Kentucky and Oklahoma, Arizona Educators United has flourished over the last few months, banding together nearly sixty thousand Arizona teachers and supporters to pressure the governor and the legislature to enact permanent, sustainable solutions to the funding crisis.
Apache Junction AEU coordinator Kelli Mortenson, a 4th grade teacher at Four Peaks Elementary School, listed their demands at the April 10 AJUSD Governing Board Meeting: 1) 20% salary increases for teachers in order to create a pay structure that is competitive with neighboring states, 2) Competitive pay for all education support professionals, including aides and paraprofessionals, as well as nurses, transportation, food service, maintenance and all other support personnel, 3) Permanent certified salary structure that includes annual raises, 4) Education funding restored to 2008 levels, and 5) No new tax cuts until per-pupil funding reaches the national average.
“Our educators work tirelessly to create the most dynamic lessons they can,” stated Mortenson, “but when the funding is not there for current curriculum, then our students suffer the consequences. That problem has been exponentially compounded as the public education funds are continually diverted to private schools and the privatization of prisons.
“We, as a staff of Apache Junction Unified School District, are prepared to walk out with all our colleagues from Arizona public schools. We don’t want this to happen, but if it does, we will support this movement to bring greater funding to our schools. As educators, we always put our students first, but, unfortunately, the state of Arizona thinks it’s okay if they are last.”
AJUSD Board members voted unanimously at the meeting to approve a resolution supporting educators and #RedForEd. (View here: AJUSD_Governing_Board_Resolution)
“For decades, the teachers have sat quietly, buying school supplies for other people’s children, working extra hours without complaining, etc.,” said Rizzi. “I am happy to see teachers are finally standing up for themselves to say, ‘No more!’”
AJUSD teachers have held walk-ins each Wednesday during the month of April to raise awareness within the community about the movement and the issues facing public education. Walk-ins occur at the start of a school day, with staff and supporters gathering at a designated spot and walking into the school as a group, allowing teachers and staff to have their voices heard and continue educating students at the same time.
Mortenson told The News, “We have had a really great response with the walk-ins. The people who have driven by have given us thumbs up, honks, and shouted for us to keep fighting.”
Governor Ducey recently responded to the statewide movement with a promise to increase teachers’ salaries by 20% by fiscal year 2020, restoring recession-era cuts and phasing in an additional $371 million in District Additional Assistance and Charter Additional Assistance over the next five years. Many educators, however, are not convinced. They are concerned that Ducey is making promises he can’t keep.
According to the AZ Capitol Times, Ducey’s proposal would sweep millions of dollars from other state programs in order to meet the proposed education increases. Those cuts would include: $500,000 for the Attorney General’s Border Crimes Unit, $2 million in one-time funding for the developmentally disabled, $1 million for healthcare in private prisons and $8 million in one-time funding for Arizona universities, plus another $37 million from other agencies such as the Department of Environmental Quality. It would also increase the state’s hospital assessment, which pays for Medicaid expansion, by $35 million and use $42 million in savings through the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), among other measures.
Concerns also include the sustainability of the promised increases. One analyst, as quoted by George Fallar in the education blog Nebulous Verbosity, explained that, “By law, the governor and legislature cannot obligate future legislatures to future expenditures. So you will likely get your 9% this year, with no way to guarantee the rest will follow [after the November, 2018, elections]. Basically, even if the Governor is 100% committed to seeing this deal through, he has absolutely zero mechanism to assure it happens.”
Additional concerns include the possibility that the legislature intends to increase restrictions on AHCCCS (Medicaid) in order to save money and/or raid county General Funds to pay for state obligations, thus forcing county Boards of Supervisors across the state to raise property taxes to fill the gap – and to take the fall for increased taxes.
AJUSD Board Member Mike Weaver, who recently retired after 20 years as an education advocate with the AEA, summarized, “This particular movement is new; the effort to confront those who have eroded and chopped away at education funding and added more to the plate of all of our educators – and I use the word educator, because I consider every single employee of the school district to be as important as any other – it’s well over two decades old.
“The fight has been going on much longer than this particular piece of the movement. I, for one, am happy to see people finally getting up and fighting, and I hope that it’s sustained, because it’s going to take more than this legislative session; probably more than the next legislative session – there’s a long game here.”
Expect More Arizona Media Statement:
The Governor’s teacher pay proposal is a good step forward and would propel Arizona closer to meeting our shared goal of being at the national median for teacher pay by 2022.
We still need a long-term funding solution that supports the entire education continuum and ensures safe learning environments and access to 21st century resources for educators and students across the state.
Expect More Arizona is eager to continue working together, across party lines, to find long-term funding solutions that support the success of every student, every step of the way – regardless of background, income or zip code.
– Christine M. Thompson, President & CEO, Expect More Arizona
Photo above: “Walk-ins” will switch to “Walk-out” this Thursday, Apil 26. Approved by 78% of 57,000 teachers voting.