Thou­sands join statewide walk-in

Sup­port for #RedForEd grows in Ari­zona

The Arizona Republic - - Front Page - Kaila White and Ri­cardo Cano

Thou­sands of Ari­zona teach­ers, stu­dents and par­ents ral­lied out­side their schools shortly after sun­rise Wed­nes­day in an ef­fort to boost sup­port for their grow­ing #RedForEd move­ment de­mand­ing higher wages and more school fund­ing.

The walk-ins were com­mu­nity af­fairs, draw­ing sup­port and at­ten­tion from each school’s own kids, par­ents and neigh­bors. Passersby honked as they drove by the seas of peo­ple wear­ing red and wav­ing signs out­side schools.

Ari­zona Ed­u­ca­tors United, the grass­roots group be­hind #RedForEd that planned the walk-ins, said walk-ins oc­curred in 130 school dis­tricts and 1,112 schools on Wed­nes­day.

Par­tic­i­pat­ing schools in­cluded dis­trict and char­ter, ur­ban and ru­ral, and those in neigh­bor­hoods that strongly lean both lib­eral and con­ser­va­tive.

Teach­ers at Madi­son Tra­di­tional Academy in cen­tral Phoenix met dozens of sup­port­ers on the street as early as 6:45 a.m. with signs, pom poms and snacks.

“This is the most crit­i­cal is­sue fac­ing Ari­zona,” said Kathy An­der­son, stand­ing near the school with her young grand­daugh­ter.

Ari­zona teach­ers are de­mand­ing a 20 per­cent pay raise and more than $1 bil­lion in re­stored money for stu­dents.

Ari­zona ranks near the bot­tom for teacher pay na­tion­ally. Ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis by the Ari­zona School Boards As­so­ci­a­tion, the me­dian teacher pay in 2018 is $46,949. A 20 per­cent in­crease would amount to $9,390, for a to­tal of $56,339.

An­der­son said she would sup­port a teacher walk­out, strike or “what­ever it takes.”

“No one’s lis­ten­ing and it’s em­bar­rass­ing that this state that has so many re­sources is so low on the rat­ing for teach­ers,” she said.

The ac­tion here co­in­cides with wide­spread, on­go­ing protests in Ken­tucky and

Ok­la­homa, where teach­ers have pub­licly re­volted over the low pay that ranks them among the worst com­pen­sated in the na­tion and the years of cuts to ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing since the re­ces­sion.

Last week, thou­sands of Ken­tucky ed­u­ca­tors closed nearly 30 school dis­tricts with a sick­out so they could protest at the state Capi­tol.

On Tues­day, Ken­tucky’s gov­er­nor warned that a teacher walk­out or strike would be “ir­re­spon­si­ble” and a “mis­take.” Ken­tucky teach­ers are plan­ning to re­turn to the Capi­tol to protest Fri­day.

Ari­zona Gov. Doug Ducey frus­trated ed­u­ca­tors with his com­ments Tues­day that he’d be will­ing to meet with de­ci­sion mak­ers to help solve the ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing prob­lem but “what I don’t want to do is get into these po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tives’ po­lit­i­cal cir­cus.”

All three states are fol­low­ing suc­cess­ful ac­tion in West Vir­ginia, where a statewide teacher walk­out last month ended after nine con­sec­u­tive days when leg­is­la­tors ap­proved a 5 per­cent pay raise.

In Ari­zona, the walkins were de­signed not to be dis­rup­tive, tak­ing place be­fore or after school hours. Or­ga­niz­ers in­tended them as a sym­bolic show of force and a way to gauge the com­mu­nity’s sup­port.

Nearly 20,000 peo­ple signed a pe­ti­tion on­line show­ing that they had par­tic­i­pated in a walk-in. An­other pe­ti­tion in fa­vor of sup­port­ing a school walk­out had more than 20,000 sig­na­tures.

Ari­zona Ed­u­ca­tors United has an­nounced it will stage a walk­out, mean­ing teach­ers would ac­tu­ally leave school dur­ing work hours. They have not pub­licly an­nounced a date.

If enough teach­ers walk out, it can force clo­sure of schools and even en­tire dis­tricts.

In Ok­la­homa, where teach­ers walked out for the eighth con­sec­u­tive school day Wed­nes­day, dis­tricts an­nounced weeks in ad­vance that they would close all schools in sup­port of

“No one’s lis­ten­ing and it’s em­bar­rass­ing that this state that has so many re­sources is so low on the rat­ing for teach­ers.” Kathy An­der­son Grand­mother of an Ari­zona stu­dent

teach­ers’ ac­tions, and shared up­dates ev­ery day about the next day’s clo­sures.

Many school boards and su­per­in­ten­dents there have given teach­ers per­mis­sion to walk out, dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing that ac­tion from a strike, which would hap­pen if su­per­in­ten­dents re­quire teach­ers to re­turn to work and they protest any­way.

Ari­zona, Ok­la­homa, Ken­tucky and West Vir­ginia are all “right to work” states that of­fer em­ploy­ees lit­tle to no job pro­tec­tions in the event of a strike. The risk of los­ing their jobs or part of their salaries if they take part in a walk­out re­mains one of the big­gest con­cerns for ed­u­ca­tors.

For Peo­ria High School, a Ti­tle I school where 70 per­cent of stu­dents qual­ify for free and re­duced lunch, a walk­out has some teach­ers and par­ents con­cerned.

“A walk­out is some­thing we have talked about and wor­ried about,” Holly Hol­gate, a math teacher at Peo­ria High, said dur­ing the walk-in there.

Amanda Clark, whose chil­dren at­tend Cheyenne El­e­men­tary in Peo­ria, said that al­though a walk­out would dis­place chil­dren, it would be worth it.

“If they’re gonna be un­com­fort­able be­cause they have to find some­thing else for their child to do that day, that’s what it’s gonna take,” Clark said. “We’ve gotta make the par­ents un­com­fort­able. We’ve gotta make the con­stituents un­com­fort­able.”

Mark Jo­raanstad, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Ari­zona School Ad­min­is­tra­tors, told The Ari­zona Re­pub­lic this week that the state’s school su­per­in­ten­dents are in on-go­ing in­ter­nal dis­cus­sions re­gard­ing the lo­gis­tics of a walk­out.

He said many su­per­in­ten­dents ex­pressed a de­sire to con­tinue to pay ed­u­ca­tors dur­ing a walk­out.

Few school su­per­in­ten­dents, though, have chimed in on the move­ment and ed­u­ca­tors’ open in­ten­tions to walk out — ei­ther for or against.

But some school boards, in­clud­ing those in the state’s largest dis­tricts, Mesa and Tuc­son, have ex­pressed pub­lic sup­port for the move­ment, and sev­eral other school boards have in­di­cated that they would fol­low suit.

Kay Stew­ard, prin­ci­pal at Cholla El­e­men­tary School in Casa Grande, said she wor­ries about what would hap­pen if her teach­ers walked out. But she seemed to sup­port their goals and pos­si­ble ac­tion.

“I think (the dis­cus­sions of a walk­out) have to get more se­ri­ous in or­der for the Leg­is­la­ture to ac­tu­ally lis­ten, un­for­tu­nately,” Stew­ard said.

She said school ad­min­is­tra­tors have been in con­stant com­mu­ni­ca­tion about a con­tin­gency plan if teach­ers walk out.

“We know that if this hap­pens we’d have kids who are with us all day, be­cause we wouldn’t be able to get to their par­ents,” Stew­ard said. “We’re not send­ing kids home un­less we know that they’re safe. We have al­ter­nate plans.”

In Ok­la­homa, fears of a child-care short­age or child-hunger crisis haven’t ma­te­ri­al­ized.

The state’s largest dis­trict, Ok­la­homa City Pub­lic Schools, pro­vided free meals at more than 100 lo­ca­tions for any­one 18 and younger.

Dozens of or­ga­ni­za­tions, churches and busi­nesses stepped up to pro­vide free or lower-priced child care.

The Ok­la­homa City Parks, Re­cre­ation & Cul­tural Ser­vices De­part­ment ex­panded its hours to of­fer free child care at its re­cre­ation cen­ters ev­ery day, but al­most no one showed up, ac­cord­ing to de­part­ment di­rec­tor Dou­glas Kup­per.

“Be­cause the whole com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing CEOs, un­der­stood and be­lieved in what was oc­cur­ring, they were very for­giv­ing of va­ca­tion time or al­low­ing par­ents to bring their kids to work,” Kup­per told The Re­pub­lic Wed­nes­day.

“Rel­a­tives stepped up — I talked to a cou­ple peo­ple that their kids’ class­mates’ par­ents who are stay-at-home moms took in two or three of the kids from the neigh­bor­hood so the work­ing par­ents could go to work. Ev­ery­body was on board with this and un­der­stood it.”

Many par­ents who sup­ported the walk-ins said they are will­ing to find child care and help each other if teach­ers walk out.

Jackie Nor­ris walked her grand­son Noah, a kinder­garten stu­dent at Cholla El­e­men­tary School in Casa Grande, and his friend to school early Wed­nes­day as three dozen teach­ers protested out­side.

“Me, my lit­tle kiddo and his friend will be right be­hind them with our lit­tle pick­ets, if they do (walk out) to sup­port them,” Nor­ris said. “It’s been a long time com­ing. Any­thing that they do, they’ve got my sup­port.”

As for what would hap­pen to Noah if his school were to close as part of the likely walk­out, Nor­ris said, “he’ll be home with me.”

“I can start a lit­tle day­care with all the par­ents who need help with kids,” Nor­ris said. “Bring them. I’ll do any­thing to help sup­port these teach­ers.”

TOM TIN­GLE/ THE RE­PUB­LIC

Marthana Hall, a teacher at a school in Gil­bert, leads chants on Wed­nes­day dur­ing the statewide walk-in. The event was aimed at high­light­ing the need for more fund­ing for ed­u­ca­tion.

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