All Sahuarita schools will close Thursday and Friday after a district survey of 293 teachers showed 57 percent plan to participate in Thursday’s statewide walkout.
Officials don’t believe they have enough staff to adequately supervise students, Superintendent Manny Valenzuela said Monday evening. He said the district will update parents on plans for next week sometime Saturday.
Continental School Superintendent Roxana Rico said Tuesday that the school will be closed Thursday and Friday. A teacher at Air & Space Academy said Tuesday they are not participating in the walk-out. Great Expectations Academy did not return calls for comment.
Valenzuela said he wanted to keep campuses open but said there was “reasonable doubt as to our ability to operate schools in a safe manner.”
Arizona teachers overwhelmingly voted last week to walk off the job starting Thursday, rejecting a deal by Gov. Doug Ducey that would give them a 19 percent raise over the next two years. Members of the grassroots Arizona Educators United questioned how the state is going to pay for those raises and said Ducey’s plan didn’t address their other demands.
Questions and answers
•57 percent of teachers in SUSD said they're walking; what number would have kept schools open? Valenzuela said, historically, other school districts have needed 50 to 70 percent of teachers in place to stay open. They were far below that and “the leadership team felt strongly that there were serious concerns.” He said there are 350 to 400 teachers in the district. He said a survey of support staff, who are not paid during a walkout, showed 70 percent wanted to remain on the job.
•How confident are you in the validity of the district's survey? “They're valid to a general degree,” he said of the numbers. Valenzuela said Arizona Educators United liaisons in the district did their own survey, which showed “significantly more than half” of teachers would walk out.
•He said the teachers at Sopori voted in higher numbers to remain working, but it was generally even across the rest of the district. He did not have exact numbers.
•Will teachers be paid? Since the district initiated the closure, teachers will be paid. They might need to make up that time, uncompensated, if extra days are tacked onto the end of the school year to meet state standards for instructional time. Teachers can't take sick days because they are not expected or required to be at work that day, Valenzuela said.
•What are the chances extra days will be added? Valenzuela said they're trying to figure that out. His best guess is that if the walkout lasts a day or two, it won't be necessary to add days. They are figuring out how many instructional days are still necessary to meet the state standard but said they have wiggle room in the calendar. He said freezing weather in 2011 closed schools for a day or two but did not lead to an extended year. “Maybe we can absorb one or two days; we'll get a specific answer on that later,” he said.
•What about planned student events? Valenzuela said events will go as planned provided there is staff available to supervise students. That includes athletics, a dance showcase this weekend, AP exams and a trip by Anza Trail music students to California. High school graduation will go on as scheduled, though seniors may need to make up missed days after the ceremony.
•The district has had no contact with the state; Valenzuela has talked to colleagues in Southern Arizona about their plans.
On Saturday, AEU Sahuarita liaisons said they were working to make sure students are fed and cared for during the walkout. Churches, community organizations, SUSD staff and volunteers were already lining up to make lunch boxes and sack lunches for the “huge number” of students who receive the majority of their nutrition through the schools' breakfast and lunch programs, liaison Barb Tingle said. (SEE FLYERS WITH THIS STORY)
One church has agreed to be a drop-off location for food and gift card donations, and a “delivery squad” has been formed to reach students in Sahuarita and outlying areas, she said.
Danielle Pack, a reading specialist at Sahuarita Intermediate School and AEU liaison, said a Facebook page has been set up for volunteers willing to watch children and for those in need of having their children watched.
By Monday, 663 people had joined the Sahuarita Walk Out Childcare Network.
A similar group, the Amado/Arivaca/Elephant Head Walkout Support Network, had 32 members on Monday.
Tuesday and Wednesday, teachers and staff will stage walk-ins at each of the district’s schools at the beginning of the school day, as they did each of the last two Wednesdays and on Monday this week.
In addition, at 4 p.m. Wednesday, AEU members and their supporters will line up along Sahuarita Boulevard at Rancho Sahuarita Boulevard for a “stand-out” before going to the SUSD governing board meeting at 6 p.m.
All Marana schools will also be closed, but many Tucson-area school districts have yet to make a decision. Officials from Amphitheater, Flowing Wells, Tucson Unified and Sunnyside have said they will make the decision on a school-by-school basis. The Tanque Verde Unified School and Catalina Foothills school districts are weighing closing all schools.
Kim Smith | 547-9740