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Arizona educators question Gov. Ducey’s education proposal

(AP Photo/Bob Christie)
LISTEN: Dawn Penich-Thacker, Teacher and Communications Director of Save Our Schools Arizona

PHOENIX — Members of Arizona Educators United expressed their concerns Thursday for the new education proposal announced by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey.

The proposal is set to give Arizona teachers a 20 percent pay increase over the next two years, with a one percent pay raise in fiscal year 2018, a nine percent raise in fiscal year 2019 and then a five percent raise in both fiscal years 2020 and 2021.

The plan would also pledge $371 million in district assistance to provide flexible funding for schools to use on various improvement projects.

While the plan outlined the impact it would make on the pay of teachers, members from the Arizona Educators United questioned the proposals in a video, saying it doesn’t meet their demands.

“This doesn’t address all of the demands the Arizona Educators United has put out, as it doesn’t meet what it is that Red for Ed stands for,” said Joe Thomas, the president of the Arizona Educators Association.

“The educator voice has never been stronger in the state of Arizona. So now we have to decide, was this hastily put together press conference, this set of goals without any details on how we are going to get there, is that good enough?”

The Arizona Educators United produced demands that included benefits for both teachers and support staff within Arizona’s school districts.

Vanessa Jimenez, the vice president of classified employees for the Phoenix Union School District, said her “heart dropped” when there was no mention of other educational staff in the proposal.

“That saddens me because everybody knows that it takes a village to raise our students and that village includes teachers and classified staff,” Jimenez said.

“When I think of his proposal, it’s clearly an attempt to divide us and we are not going to be divided. Yesterday we all wore red, we walked in together, united. Whether we were cafeteria, bus drivers, crafts, clerical tech, we all are in this together so I hope we don’t let this break us apart.”

Dr. Michael Cowan, the superintendent of Mesa Public Schools, called the proposal a “strong viable option” in a statement Friday.

“I’m pleased that he addressed compensation and district additional assistance money. Mesa Public Schools is still wrestling with the impact of minimum wage increases for support staff.”

Dr. Paul Tighe, superintendent of Saddle Mountain Unified School District, applauded Ducey for the move and said he was hopeful that it would squash a potential long-term walkout.

“We want to avoid [a walkout] if possible while supporting the needs of teachers and support staff as well,” he said. “I hope [teachers] will avoid work stoppage and disruption of schooldays.”

Dawn Penich-Thacker, one of the co-founders of Save Our Schools Arizona, told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Chad Benson that she is “cautiously optimistic” about Ducey’s proposal, adding that if the money to fund teacher pay increases is legitimate, then it is one step in the right direction.

“We need to see how it actually plays out,” she said.

She added that educators are not “holding their breath. If it’s a win, we’re going to call it a win and start working on the next problem.”

But Penich-Thacker said that teachers should not be discouraged, that this proposal was only made because educators and supporters fought for it.

“Clearly what we’re doing is making a difference, which means we need to keep doing it.”

Teachers have been taking to the streets for weeks as a part of the #RedForEd movement, which was launched by Arizona Educators United, to call on Ducey and other Arizona lawmakers to dedicate more funds to teacher pay and classroom improvements.

Teachers and other support staff said they would hold the protests every Wednesday this month. Before Ducey’s announcement, organizer Derek Harris said Arizona Educators United would soon announce a date for teachers to walk out of their classrooms. It was not clear whether that would still occur.

Ducey said he hopes for the proposal to be approved soon, as he and members of legislature will work through the weekend to iron out the details.

“I believe the legislature is in line with that and I know we can get this done,” he said.

KTAR News’ Griselda Zetino contributed to this report. 

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