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A Movement In Red

In this file photo, Flagstaff High School Principal Tony Cullen talks with a group of teachers Wednesday afternoon during a Red For Ed rally at City Hall.

Editor's note: As teachers in several states, including Arizona, rallied for higher pay, the Daily Sun asked a group of engaged citizens – none is an elected official or a declared candidate – to answer a set of questions. Following are their answers:

#1 How important would you rate teacher pay as an issue facing Arizona?

Harriet Young: Given the fact that our teachers are fleeing the profession in droves and legislators like Sylvia Allen support dropping teacher certification as a requirement to teach our children, I say it’s a top 3 issue. Studies demonstrate that major businesses move into a state with good public facilities like good public schools. There is no evidence that low taxes attract companies with good jobs. This is a fallacy promoted by an anti-government minority of ideologues.

Dick Monroe: The teacher salary drive is a bandwagon issue inspired by West Virginia, and not nearly as critical as portrayed by media coverage of organized protests. In at least 15 states, average teacher salaries are less than those in Arizona.

Carl Taylor: I think that adequate teacher pay is fundamental - like being the beginning of the food chain. Good and experienced teachers who are highly motivated to help their students succeed are essential to our local economy and quality of life. Short-term and under motivated teachers with overcrowded classrooms will leave a legacy of undereducated and non-competitive graduates - at any level. Education, health and economic security are core problems for Arizona.

Joy Staveley: Regarding teacher pay, I believe we need more money in our classrooms. Education dollars should follow our students into the classroom. Teachers should be paid based on student achievement. According to the March Auditor General report, total dollars spent on instruction has decreased over the past 5 years in Flagstaff. 51.9 cents of every dollar in Flagstaff Unified schools made it into the classroom. Dollars should follow our kids into the classrooms, not further line bureaucrat pockets. Classrooms should be fully funded before administrators are paid.

Patrick Payne: It is today’s most essential and significant issue. But I’m biased. We lost our own “Teacher of the Year” in 2017 when our schoolteacher daughter left Arizona for the identical job in Nevada paying her half again as much annually. Plus a nice and a surprise cash bonus of $3,000 for “whatever.”

D. Young: I would say of moderate importance. We have to compare teacher pay with infrastructure improvement, illegal immigration, pay of first responders, attracting new businesses to AZ, etc.

Ann Heitland: In the top two or three, along with the future of our water supply and the impact of climate change.

#2 Is a 20 percent raise proposed by some teachers justified?

H. Young: It is justified since it would merely catch them up to where they would be today had they not been denied cost of living increases since 2008. If they are not given a raise that at least catches them up with the cost of living, they will still be behind.

Monroe: The movement for 20% increases is as unrealistic as the movement for $15/hour pay for fast food employees. Teachers have a three-month, non-working vacation that translates into about a 20% effective salary adjustment.

Taylor: Teachers are actually paid less now than a few years ago, when inflation is taken into account. A 20% raise still does not make our teachers nationally competitive, but may result in more staying in the profession here. I regard this as an overdue adjustment - not a windfall.

Staveley: Regarding the proposed 20% pay increase, if you look at the private sector, the average compensation typically does not include three months off, health benefits, or a fully funded 401K. Until we have the full picture of what is all included in teacher compensation, teachers should be paid based on merit and student performance. If current public school teachers would like to opt out of their current defined benefit retirement program in favor of a privately funded 401K, teachers could access more dollars more quickly and decide for themselves how they would like to allocate any extra dollars not going into a state retirement pension that private sector employees don’t have. Moving forward we should suggest all new hires move to a defined contribution retirement plan. As we can attest from watching cities struggle to keep up with pension plans, the education establishment is moving us closer to seeing school districts file bankruptcy over their high administrative costs and underfunded retirement accounts.

Payne: Yes. It is reasonable and necessary. Actually more an adjustment than a raise.

D. Young: Not in one year. It is difficult to compare pay from one state to another. This may sound harsh, but one must annualize teacher’s pay in order to compare their pay to others. Remember, teachers work about 9 months out of the year.

Heitland: It certainly is. That would barely bring our teachers to the national average.

#3 Should pay raises, if granted, be accompanied by more accountability and performance measures?

H. Young: There is growing evidence that the testing and accountability frenzy was designed to justify reducing the labor costs of paying teachers. There have been several articles recently that show that most voucher/choice supporters support expensive testing costs provided by private, profit based companies. The money is there, it just goes to private for-profit companies, not the teacher who lives next door to you.

Monroe: Pay should be commensurate with performance, not tenure; individual annual increases should reflect COL adjustments, labor market, and performance. Termination for underperformance should be swift.

Taylor: At this point, the Legislature is trying to fill vacant teacher positions with people who do not have degrees in education. We do not need to further regulate teachers, but rather must insist on a baseline level of educational and professional training, plus continuing education, as an expectation for improved pay.

Staveley: Pay raises should be accompanied by accountability. Teachers should be held accountable for their student’s performance. Many public school teachers currently receive merit based bonuses. If a teacher is good, then they should be paid more than a teacher that isn’t doing their job.Too many of our graduating seniors go into college in need of remedial education. Too many of our students are promoted to the next grade level even though they have not mastered material for their current grade level.

Payne: Performance measures almost always resisted no matter the school district in any of our states. I am in favor of more accountability but it should not be a stumbling block in today’s deplorable situation.

D. Young: Times have changed. When I was young, virtually every child had two parents. The child was held responsible for doing their homework. The parents supported the teacher when discipline was needed. Today, the teacher is to blame if the child misbehaves. The parents hold adversarial positons with the teachers. From what I hear from family members who are teachers, there appears to be very little support for the teachers in the home. Elementary schools and high schools do not need more testing. The idea that the performance of the teacher depends on the outcome of testing is just stupid. There are too many tests. Forget about trying to indoctrinate our school kids about alternate life styles. Get back to the basics.

Heitland: No, these need to be treated as separate issues because the need for pay raises is urgent. Already there is too much "teaching to the test" because of past imposition of accountability standards.

#4 How much more overall should Arizona be spending on its public schools and how should the revenues be raised?

H. Young: When you’re in a hole, stop digging. The Arizona legislature has been giving tax cuts to corporations and the 1% since the time of Fife Symington. Doug Ducey does not budge from his pledge to continue to give a tax cut every year. As long as we elect people who see public spending as an unnecessary evil, we will have crumbling schools and infrastructure. The general public benefits from public goods; the wealthiest have enough money, land and extra cash to live any life they choose. If you send your kids off to boarding schools and live behind gates, you see no need to pay for public parks, schools, or streets. But taxes have been cut for this socio-economic group. Review how much tax money we raised before the slashers took power, and go back to that rate until the public sector is restored.

Monroe: Teachers comprise-+ just less than 50% of staff, and per pupil non-personal expenditures are about $600 less than states with comparable teacher wages. An addition of $800 per student ($800 million annually) split between salaries and equipment/facilities and savings realized from streamlining of staff would rank us fairly high against comparable geographic/demographic states. Source would likely be property taxes.

Taylor: I do not support public funding of private schools in any amount. Public schools should have adequate facilities and equipment to achieve their teaching mission. On top of that expense, including maintenance and upgrades, I support significant increases in teacher pay within the next 2 years. Reducing the number and cost of prisons and recidivism of uneducated inmates would more than pay for an enhanced educational system, or restoring taxes to previous levels obviously would.

Staveley: How much more overall we should spend on our public schools is a difficult question. School districts have a lot of taxpayer dollars. In many cases school board members are not savvy enough to read and understand a simple budget. If these elected officials cannot comprehend how dollars are being spent, how can the public understand how teachers are paid? Unfortunately when a school district wants more money from the federal government, more often than not, federal mandates ties the hands of those asking for additional dollars. Not only does this take time away from teaching our kids, but it creates obstacles ensuring our students

D. Young: This is above my pay grade. I am not in a position to give you an absolute number.

Heitland: Arizona should be spending what it takes to move into the middle range of states in teacher pay and classroom size. We need to renovate our school buildings. These things are necessary to attract businesses which look for a well-educated workforce. Our property taxes are way too low compared with other states, but before tackling that source (which will be a difficult battle) we can hit some low-hanging fruit by eliminating special interest sales tax exemptions and reversing the corporate tax cuts that have taken place over the last decade.

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