Many School Districts Remain Closed As Arizona Teacher Walkout Enters 4th Day
Teachers marked a fourth day of walking out of schools to demand more money for public education. Thousands of educators descended once again, this time to line up and talk budget details with their lawmakers.
Joining the walkout was Rainbow Valley teacher Wayne Borelli.
“I really want to be a full time teacher but I haven’t been able to do that because there’s no way I can be full -ime and pay my bills," said Borelli.
He teachers fourth grade in Buckeye and in his last career was an information technology executive. This is his first year in the classroom – he says the pay difference is huge – but the work load doesn’t compare.
“My salary was about eight times greater than what it is here. But I do more work as a teacher 9 months out of the year than I did as technology executive 12 months of the year," said Borelli.
Borelli joined the more than five thousand teachers at the Capitol Tuesday.
Teachers from around the state are waiting eagerly at the Arizona Capitol for lawmakers to pass a budget that includes more funding for education.
Marissa Johnston teaches fourth grade in Tonopah.
She said regardless of what happens with Gov. Doug Ducey’s plan to raise salaries, she’ll be considering money for schools when she votes in the midterm elections.
“I know that my next step for sure is to take it to the polls. You know if nothing gets done by summer here, we have to go back to work, we have to, we have to get these kids what they need and what they deserve," said Johnston.
The governor proposed a plan to raise teacher salaries 20 percent by the year 2020. Educators are concerned the plan is unsustainable and doesn’t provide enough funding for support staff, supplies and buildings.
KJZZ’s Mariana Dale reported the crowd is a smaller but estimate there were still several thousand people there. Food trucks were parked outside the Capitol and groups have been distributing free bottles of water to demonstrators amid the festival-like atmosphere.
“But you also get the sense that people are here to work,” Dale said, adding that several hundred people were waiting to get into the House of Representatives this morning to talk to legislators.
Many also were also waiting to drop off letters to the governor's office.
“They're here to see something accomplished today,” she said. “We've heard from a lot of teachers in the Valley in Maricopa County.”
Dale spoke to a group of educators from Red Rock Elementary School in Pinal County.
“They came here because they felt like if they weren't going to be in the classroom teaching then they needed to be here to be representing their interests and their voices to their local lawmakers and to let people know that they're really watching this budget as it moves along and they expect to see education be a part of it,” Dale said.
For rural districts, this has been a chance to meet “like-minded people, teachers they might not normally be exposed to,” Dale said.
“And there's a great sense of camaraderie here and sort of the rule teachers feel like their voices are being heard,” she said.
Some rural lawmakers tend to be Republicans and are supportive of the governor’s plan, Dale said. But skeptics remain.
“They're wondering whether this plan has any permanence, how it's going to be sustained, the funding over the long term,” Dale said, adding that many noted the movement isn’t just about teacher pay.
She spoke to a teacher in Prescott whose roof is leaking. Dale also talked to teachers in Globe who are responsible for providing more than just education but food to many of their students.
“So they really have a diverse set of needs and they hope that their lawmakers hear them,” Dale said.
One teacher at Littleton Elementary School told Dale she was eager to return to her first-grade class and check up on its pet fish.
“She said that the janitor has been really good about checking in and making sure he's still swimming along as this teacher walkout gets through, but yeah there's a variety of needs here and the class pet care is certainly one of them,” Dale said.
Arizona's teacher walkout is now in its fourth day. Thousands of schools remain closed and thousands of teachers are gathered at the state Capitol demanding higher pay and more funding for education.
KJZZ’s Casey Kuhn said the atmosphere resembled a festival with tents labeled with different schools and school districts lining the Capitol mall lawn. A band of music teachers played the Star-Spangled Banner this morning.
“I felt kind of like we were at a sporting event and I mean it sounded beautiful from where I was at,” she said. “So I am of course a former band kid so I might be a little biased.”
Kuhn said the mood among teachers “is still hopeful” but different. “The mood is almost I wouldn't say weary but it's definitely kind of like OK how much longer can we come out here. When are we going to finally hear a budget that satisfies what we've been asking for,” she said.
She spoke to a teacher who works at the Peoria Unified School District. The teacher told Kuhn she needs to see Gov. Doug Ducey’s promises in writing.
“And I would say that they also really want to be part of the process,” adding that a line of educators was forming for the budget committee hearings in the Legislature.
“ Since I got here almost an hour ago the line to get into the budget committee meetings, which started just now ... the line has wrapped around halfway around the block since I've been here.”
Kuhn estimated that 95 percent of those in line are educators currently in schools.
“They feel like they have not been included in these conversations, that lawmakers are freezing them out,” Kuhn said. “I think that's why they're out here today. They feel like they haven't been heard.”
She added that now that that money hasn't been restored that it's time for them to come out and be part of the discussion. “It's time for them to bring out numbers people and read to talk about education.”
Large districts across the state — including Deer Valley, Tucson, Chandler and Scottsdale Unified school districts — remain closed until they can ensure enough staff in classrooms.
Tuesday is the fourth day in a row for school closures. Students will have to make up those lost days at the end of the school year.
Food banks say they’re seeing triple the amount of kids coming in for meals than last Thursday and Friday when schools were also closed.
Organizers haven’t said when the walkout will end. Lawmakers are still debating a budget that would include Gov. Doug Ducey's plan of a 20 percent raise for teachers by 2020.
Check back for updates.