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Students Supporting Teachers

In this file photo, Gretchen Ebers, 7, holds a sign calling for drivers on Highway 180 to support public education  during a #RedforEd walk-in protest by teachers before the start of the school day at Sechrist Elementary School earlier this month.

Teachers in Flagstaff Unified School District and Flagstaff charter schools are voting with their cohorts across the state on whether they will walk out in support of more funding for education in the state.

Flagstaff Education Association President Derek Born and Flagstaff Junior Academy Wellness Teacher Ben Jefferies said they were not impressed with proposals for increased education funding made by Gov. Doug Ducey or the Arizona House of Representatives.

Ducey has proposed a plan that would include a 20 percent teacher raise over the next three years and additional funding for schools. However, according to his plan, Ducey would sweep money from state universities, the developmentally disabled, healthcare for prisoners, the Department of Environmental Quality and several other state departments. It also counts on general state revenues to increase.

The House’s plan would use $100 million that Ducey pledged to put into funding for school facilities and supplies earlier this year and put it directly toward a 24 percent teacher pay raise over the next six years.

“They just don’t get it,” Jefferies said of Ducey and the Arizona Representatives. “They’re trying to paint this as being about teachers’ salaries. That’s not what this is all about.”

Teacher salaries are a small portion of the #RedforEd movement, he said. It’s really about the baseline funding for education in the state. Jefferies said he, personally, always thought of the demand for a 20 percent teacher pay raise as a bargaining chip. He expected the state to agree for additional funding for education in general and a smaller pay increase for teachers, not the other way around.

Jefferies said he had some hope with Ducey’s plan since it did address some funding for things other than teacher salaries, but when he saw that the sweeps would come from programs that help the disabled and didn’t address the salary needs of education support staff, it became a disappointment.

The House proposal was just an insult, he said. The House proposal would essentially take money from what the teachers were fighting for, funds that pay for improvements to school buildings and operations, to give teachers a raise.

“I don’t know a single teacher who thinks this is a good idea,” Jefferies said. “We want to do our job well. We can’t do that if our facilities aren’t funded properly.”

And the support staff, aids and classified staff that make schools run deserve a raise too, he said. They’ve faced some of the same difficulties that teachers have.

“I’m even more committed to a walk-out now than before,” Jefferies said.

Jefferies said Flagstaff Unified School District teachers and local charter teachers from Northland Preparatory School, Basis, Pine Forest and Flagstaff Junior Academy, seem to be in agreement on this.

Born called both Gov. Ducey’s plan and the House’s plan an unsustainable funding shell game. Ducey’s plan relies on future revenue projections that may not happen and shifts funds from vulnerable populations, he said.

“We don’t want a raise if it’s going to hurt the state’s most vulnerable,” Born said.

The proposals are just looking at teachers as upset because they haven’t had a raise in several years and if the state just gives them a raise, the problem will be solved, he said. It’s not about that. It’s about improving schools for students.

While Ducey’s plan does address some of that school improvement need, it doesn’t bring education funding up to pre-recession levels fast enough, Born said. The state education system has been underfunded for so long that things are starting crumble at a faster and faster rate. The system needs to be brought up to 2008 levels now and a sustainable funding source to improve and maintain the system needs to be put into place.

It’s taken the state more than 20 years to dig itself from the median to the bottom of the list in education funding for U.S. states, Born said. If the state could just get back to being in the median, Born would be happy.

Born also said things have been let go for so long that the state now needs to do something bold in order to catch up. The Red for Ed movement makes that bold move.

“We’re done with half measures,” he said.

Born said teachers at FUSD and some Flagstaff charter schools are participating in a week-long vote to determine if teachers across the state will walk out. The votes are being collected at each school site, with teachers voting during off-contract hours.

The votes will be called into a special Arizona Educators Association hotline Thursday evening, where a statewide tally will be held. The results may come in as soon as Thursday evening. By Friday morning, teachers will know if a walkout will occur. Then it becomes a matter of setting a date for the walkout.

Born said before Ducey announced his plan, at least 75 percent of 200 FUSD employees who were polled said they were willing to walk out. That may have shifted slightly since the two proposals came out.

If there is a walkout Born and Jefferies said there are already #RedforEd teachers and supporters who are working with local organizations to help parents find child care.

The reporter can be reached at sadams@azdailysun.com or (928)556-2253.

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Education/Business Reporter

Suzanne writes about education and business. She covers the local school district, charter schools and Northern Arizona University. She also writes the Sunday business features.

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