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Diane Douglas warns teachers there could be repercussions for walkout

Diane Douglas (Milken Family Foundation Photo)
LISTEN: Diane Douglas, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction

PHOENIX — Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas called the planned teacher walkout illegal and warned teachers that they would be taking a risk by walking off the job.

“I’m only going to tell them the truth. … It is illegal to strike in Arizona, and by every definition I’ve read, this is a strike,” Douglas told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Bruce St. James and Pamela Hughes on Tuesday.

“To resign your position — and one can arguably say walking out on a strike could be resigning your position under the law — that is an actionable, unprofessional action on the part of a teacher. So that can be … anything from a letter of censure to a suspension to a revocation.”

Douglas also criticized district leaders who have announced they will close schools when the walkouts begin Thursday.

“It does seem to me, as a former school board member, that our school boards and our administration seem to be enabling what is actually an unlawful act on the part of our teachers,” she said.

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

In response to sustained protests, Ducey issued a proposal to phase in a 20 percent pay increase by 2020.

Educators, however, were concerned that the funding wasn’t sustainable and the proposal didn’t meet all of their demands. Last week they voted last week in favor of a walkout.

Douglas thinks teachers missed an opportunity by rejecting Ducey’s offer without engaging in negotiations.

“I think 20 percent is a very good offer,” she said. “I believe that our teachers should have stayed at the table to work through all of that.”

Douglas said she’s long been a proponent of increasing teacher pay and it’s the No. 1 issue among parents.

“Since I’ve been in this office, I’ve been advocating for more funding for education and a specific pay raise for teachers, but I can’t do it alone,” she said.

The superintendent said she thinks a walkout could backfire on teachers and also push parents into seeking alternatives to public schools.

“I believe that this strike could ruin that support [from parents], and I do believe that it could potentially drive parents to charter schools, especially if the charter schools remain open,” she said.