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Arizona Teachers Vote for Walkout      04/20 06:22

   PHOENIX (AP) -- Arizona teachers have voted to walk off the job to demand 
increased school funding, marking a key step toward a first-ever statewide 
strike that builds on a movement for higher pay in other Republican-dominant 
states.

   A grassroots group and the state's largest teacher membership group said 
Thursday that teachers will walkout April 26.

   Arizona jumped into a movement for higher teacher pay that started in West 
Virginia, where a strike garnered a raise, and spread to Oklahoma, Kentucky and 
most recently Colorado.

   Thursday's vote followed weeks of protests in Arizona and an offer from 
Republican Gov. Doug Ducey to give teachers a 20 percent raise by 2020. Many 
teachers kept up the pressure at schools and on social media, saying the plan 
failed to address much-needed funding for classrooms and support staff.

   "The worst possible thing we could do is not take action right now," said 
Noah Karvelis, an organizer for Arizona Educators United.

   The historic vote was announced at a press conference at the Arizona 
Education Association headquarters. Around 78 percent of the 57,000 teachers 
voted in favor of the walkout, according to Joe Thomas, president of Arizona 
Education Association.

   "This is undeniably, clearly, a mandate for action," Thomas said.

   Arizona House Democratic Leader Rebecca Rios released a statement supporting 
the planned teacher walkout.

   "The women and men who work so hard to educate our children at our 
neighborhood public schools have earned a meaningful and sustainable pay 
increase that's based on a real revenue source, not smoke and mirrors," Rios 
said. "We call on superintendents and school boards to support their teachers 
and support staff during this time."

   The governor said "no one wants to see teachers strike" and reiterated his 
proposal on Twitter after the vote was announced.

   "We have worked side by side with the education community to develop a 
sustainable plan to give teachers a 20 percent raise by 2020," Ducey wrote.

   Thomas said the governor's plan was "falling apart as we speak," and added 
that two letters asking the governor to sit down with educators have gone 
unanswered.

   Ducey's proposal drew support from the business community and some school 
organizations, but others were concerned about finding the money. The plan 
would cost about $650 million when fully implemented.

   The Arizona PTA pulled its support for the proposal, saying its analysis 
showed the finances were not realistic. An education advocacy group, Save Our 
Schools Arizona, said it's worried the plan isn't a "sustainable or 
comprehensive" way to reinvest in schools.

   Legislative budget analysts this week predicted a $265 million deficit in 
2020 if the governor's plan is approved. Ducey's office strongly disputes that 
analysis, saying much of the funding comes from revenue increases.

   Teachers on both sides of the walkout vote have shared concerns. It could 
pose child care difficulties for thousands of families and leave teachers at 
risk of losing their credentials. How a strike could play out in more than 200 
public school districts will vary but could leave hourly workers like 
custodians without their paychecks.

   Beth Simek, president of the influential Arizona PTA, she feels the pain of 
teachers who are torn. Some are concerned about the effect on support staff and 
what kids might do without school, she said.

   "I know they're toiling with that," Simek said. "I also know they need these 
raises."

   Parents and communities already have been making plans for child care, with 
some stay-at-home parents stepping up to watch children so other parents can 
work, she said. Local parent-teacher associations also are putting together 
food boxes for kids who rely on free breakfast and lunch at school.

   "There's been a lot of mobilization by the community to prepare," Simek said.

   Teachers themselves could face consequences in this right-to-work state, 
where unions do not collectively bargain with school districts and 
representation is not mandatory. The Arizona Education Association has warned 
its 20,000 members about a 1971 Arizona attorney general opinion saying a 
statewide strike would be illegal under common law and participants could lose 
their teaching credentials.

   The logistics of a walkout will vary by district. The state's largest, Mesa 
Public Schools in suburban Phoenix, would close and hourly staffers would not 
be paid, Superintendent Michael Cowan has said.

   The Dysart School District west of Phoenix would "make every effort" to 
avoid closing schools," but they would have to shut down if too few staff 
members show up, Superintendent Gail Pletnick has told parents.

   Sara Bresnahan, a spokeswoman for the Phoenix Elementary School District, 
said a walkout is "uncharted territory" but its schools would try to stay open 
for as many students as possible.

   "Some kids will be coming to school and really need a place to be," she said.

   Karvelis wouldn't say how long the walkouts could last.

   "I don't want to put any limitations on it right now," Karvelis said.

   Nancy Maglio, a teacher at Magee Middle School in southern Arizona's Tucson 
Unified School District, said teachers are motivated to walk out and demand 
funding because of what it means for their students.

   "None of us went to school, none of us spent money on tuition, on books, 
none of us spend our time and our energy to not care," she said. "We went into 
a field where caring is mandatory."

   While Maglio voted in support of the walkout, it wasn't without conflicted 
feelings.

   "I am eagerly anticipating the walkout, but I'm not eagerly anticipating 
leaving my students," she said.


(KA)

 
 
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