Gov. Doug Ducey on Thursday unveiled a plan that would see teacher wages rise 20 percent by the beginning of the 2020 school year, and restore $371 million in recession-era cuts over five years beginning July 1.
The announcement came after a week of statewide rallies and a “walk-in,” and in the shadow of threats of a sick-out and possible strike. It also came a day after the Sahuarita Unified School District board approved a 4 percent raise for teachers starting July 1.
Ducey and lawmakers will now take the weekend to look at the plan and see how it could fit into the proposed state budget.
Ducey said his initiative would give teachers a 1 percent pay raise this year, 9 percent starting July 1, and 5 percent each of the next two years. He said that would ultimately raise the average teacher salary in Arizona from $48,371 to $58,130.
Ducey said rising state revenue would help pay for the increase; he also said the plan wouldn't involve a tax hike and that he would maintain a balanced budget.
“Arizona teachers are the biggest difference-makers in the lives of Arizona’s children, and we need to reward them for their hard work,” he said in a statement.
Sahuarita teachers joined efforts by the grass-roots Arizona Educators United in a rally at Sahuarita Road and Rancho Sahuarita Boulevard last week.
On Wednesday, educators gathered before school for a “walk-in” — uniting in red shirts as they walked onto campuses to teach that morning. Hours later, teachers showed up at a Sahuarita Unified School District meeting where the board OK'd the raise.
Half a dozen speakers addressed the board as more than 70 others, wearing matching Red for Ed T-shirts, sat in the audience holding signs.
The speakers reiterated the goals of AEU, including a 20 percent raise for all teaching and certified staff for the 2018-19 school year and a return to 2008 school funding levels.
There was no official response Thursday from AEU to the governor's proposal, which must be approved by the Legislature.
Tamara Kempton, a science teacher at Sahuarita High School, said at Wednesday night's board meeting that state lawmakers insist they value education, but she doesn’t believe them. If they did, classroom sizes wouldn’t be so large, teachers wouldn’t be expected to pay for classroom supplies and teachers wouldn’t be forced to take second jobs and live with roommates in order to pay bills.
SUSD teachers love what they do, but they need the board’s support, and the students deserve their support, Kempton said.
Barb Tingle, a kindergarten teacher at Sahuarita Primary School, read a statement on behalf of colleague Mary McGraw.
“We want you to know that the Red for Ed movement is fighting for you, not against you. We are fighting for you so that our resources do not have to be quite so limited anymore,” the statement said. “Our district cannot pay us all competitive salaries, purchase additional technology, keep class sizes down, provide instructional resources, and restore capital funding on it’s own. Our state leaders need to step up and provide districts with the money necessary to fund these things.”
The entire state is becoming impoverished because teachers are fleeing to other states to earn a decent living, leaving less qualified people behind to teach our children, said Tracy Alexander, a Walden Grove High School English teacher.
“(The state) created a hostile environment last summer when it removed professional training in education as a prerequisite for certification,” Alexander said.
SUSD Superintendent Manny Valenzuela said he was “encouraged” by the governor's announcement Thursday.
“I'm hopeful it represents a shared commitment to moving public education to the top of priorities for our state,” he said.
Arizona teachers were inspired by colleagues in West Virginia, who won a 5 percent pay increase after a nine-day strike. Oklahoma teachers ended a nine-day walkout on Thursday after securing a $6,100 raise and $50 million in additional education funding.
Kim Smith | 547-9740