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Diane Douglas: ‘our No. 1 priority is to our students’

FILE - In this June 2, 2015, file photo, Diane Douglas, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, meets with reporters in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

LISTEN: Diane Douglas, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction

PHOENIX – State Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas joined KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Mac & Gaydos Friday to discuss the recent decision from Arizona educators to hold a walkout on April 26.

“If we’re going to give an increase to our teachers, we need a viable and sustainable new revenue source in Arizona,” Douglas said. “We just can’t take from one pot to give to another pot. That’s not fair in my opinion.

“These are all vital needs to our state so to me the most important discussion we can have — and I’ve been having it on and on and on over the last year, everyone who will listen to me — let’s look at new ways.”

Earlier Friday, Douglas warned teachers in a statement that they would be hurting students and their own interests if they walk off the job next week.

“Our No. 1 duty is to our students, our children, our families, that’s the most important thing,” Douglas said when asked why she warned teachers. “I respect our teachers and you know I’ve been talking for a long, long time about getting our teachers more money and looking for ways to get new revenue streams into Arizona, but they are public servants and we have to put the children first in my opinion.

“I understand it’s a method, but its politicizing our education system and I just can’t support that part of it, but I think we need to have cooler heads prevail; I think we have to recognize there were offers on the table that were trying to be worked through. The reality is government is a slow wheel and it doesn’t grind quickly.”

In her statement, Douglas implored teachers to reconsider their decision to walkout.

“I have long been a vocal proponent of providing teachers with significant pay raises,” Douglas said in a statement issued by the Arizona Department of Education. “No one has more respect for the jobs that teachers do, which is why I proposed a viable, meaningful increase in their salaries last year, as well as sustainable funding specifically for them and school facilities.

“But if the teachers do not give the leadership at the Capitol the time to implement their salary increase, I’m afraid that striking will only hurt students and parents, while simultaneously setting back their own cause.”

Douglas was responding to the announcement that teachers had voted in favor of a walkout to commence Thursday.

If teachers don’t heed Douglas’ advice, the DOE is preparing to help school districts deal with the work stoppage.

“Since my first priority is the children, in the unfortunate event that the teachers proceed to strike on Thursday, I’m calling on the communities, businesses and faith-based organizations near the schools that decide to close to please make contingencies on behalf the students that do not have anywhere else to go, especially the children of single parents,” Douglas said.

“It’s an absolute shame that it has come to this, but now that we are all in this situation, I hope that the teachers and Capitol leadership can rebuild trust and come together to resolve this matter as quickly as possible for the sake of our students.”

The DOE statement said Douglas would present an update regarding a potential walkout at Monday’s State Board of Education meeting.

Sustained protests came to a head this week when teachers voted for three days on whether to walk out. On Thursday night, Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, said 78 percent of the votes supported a walkout.

“The worst possible thing we could do is not take action right now,” Noah Karvelis, an organizer for Arizona Educators United, said after the result was announced.

Educators have been calling on Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and state lawmakers to increase their pay by 20 percent, increase the pay of school staff and improve school conditions.

Erin Hart, CEO of education advocacy group Expect More Arizona, told KTAR News 92.3 FM that it’s “sad that it’s come to this,” but she understands why the teachers have made this decision.

“We share the same frustration that teachers are feeling, that our schools are desperately underfunded and our teachers are desperately underpaid,” Hart said.

“Right now we’re at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to teacher funding.”

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Griselda Zetino and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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