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Opinion: Arizona needs to do more for teachers than wearing red

(Twitter Photo/@teachingtall)

I’m wearing red for teachers on Wednesday but history tells me that this will do nothing.

I wore red because I want teachers to know that I am on their side. I support them.

But this is not the warning to state politicians that seems to be the popular — yet misguided — purpose of our clothing choice.

I felt a lot Wednesday like I did the day that I went against my better judgement and voted “yes” on Proposition 123.

You all remember Prop. 123, right? That’s when education leaders, politicians and community leaders hoodwinked taxpayers and teachers claiming that all teachers would get a raise.

They lied. Plain and simple.

They lied so that they could raid the state’s land trust and only dole out less than 30 percent to teachers. Administrators and “other needs” gobbled up the rest.

Prop. 123 was pitched as a needed response to the clowns in the state Legislature botching previous tax and spend measures, such as Proposition 301, which narrowly passed in 2000. Prop. 301 increased sales tax by 0.6 percent for 20 years for the purpose of funding education.

Or how about Proposition 300, which passed by a 4-to-1 margin in 2002, that redirected budgetary surpluses from the state land trust to fund education. Sound familiar?

Then there was Proposition 100, which voters passed in 2010. It temporarily raised the Arizona state sales tax by 1 percent, with the proceeds going to education, health and human services and public safety.

I am pretty sure that we can all agree that, when it comes to education spending, Arizona legislators cannot be trusted. Yet here we are.

People are acting like wearing red shirts for a day will turn a legislative culture of lying to the voters and misappropriating tax dollars around.

And let’s stop celebrating what happened in West Virginia.

Yes, teachers received a 5 percent pay increase.

But all state employees received a 5 percent raise, which means that a much larger percentage could have been handed out if it had simply been focused on the group that was forcing the change. What is being celebrated as a winning compromise was nothing more than a message to teachers that they are no more valued than a street sweeper.

Here’s an idea: Let’s pick a color — let’s say green — that will stand for our commitment to vote out EACH incumbent. Let’s send a clear message that we are fed up.

We should only vote for candidates that will commit to balancing an education budget — without another dime in taxes — while raising teacher’s salaries to at minimum the national average, candidates that will commit to suitable classroom supply budgets. Once again, commensurate with, at minimum, the national average with no additional tax dollars.

Let’s elect a governor that believes our teachers deserve more than a 0.4 percent pay increase. Mind the decimal there. Seriously, that is part of his budget proposal. I can’t make that up!

Once the new pro-education order is sworn in, it will be time for real change.

It’s high time that Arizona had a taxpayer-funded education system that focuses first on public school teachers and students.

I think you can see where I’m heading here and, as a dad with two kids in public school, I’m perfectly fine being the bad guy. I’m perfectly fine with ruffling some feathers.

I’m talking about you, charter schools.

Yes, charter schools are technically public schools. More realistically, they are private schools thriving on the taxpayer’s dime. In some cases, tax-exempt churches pose as charter schools in order to have the state fund their permanent building for use on the weekends.

Yes, folks, it’s been under-reported, but it’s really happening. I’ve seen it.

It’s time to consolidate the 120-plus school districts. With some superintendents making more than $200,000 dollars per year, the salary savings alone will help a great deal. Could you imagine the savings of cutting 120 district office budgets to 60?

Let’s sell all of those buildings and place the remaining district staffs in portables on existing campuses. I’ve said that before and I will continue to say it.

It’s also time for our school system to join the real world, you know, the world we live in.

We are fed up with government shrugging their shoulders and blaming budget constraints for underpaying teachers. The money is there. They just need to move it to where it belongs and stop complaining about the years of administrator pay cuts and lack of pay increases.

That’s what happens in the real world.

If this is truly about the teachers and kids, stop complaining that some district administration staffers will have to find other jobs. We need to talk like grownups, people. And there are plenty of available teaching positions that need to be filled.

If protests or strikes are planned here in Arizona, I have one other humble suggestion: diversify.

As you have just read, the blame for low teacher compensation does not fit squarely on the shoulders of state legislators. District offices would be great places to start.

Demand that they explain to teachers and taxpayers why they decided to use Prop. 123 funds in ways not advertised by the campaign and give a reason why some district heads are being paid four or five times more than teachers.

Finally, don’t settle.

The teachers of West Virginia caved for a measly 5 percent increase. If you are going, go all in. Demand real, meaningful change in the system. Demand that the state of Arizona fix this broken education compensation system and the department of education get their fiscal house in line with the real world.

Once again, it’s time to talk like grownups. After all, it’s for the kids, right?


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