Fernandez named leg­is­la­tor of year by school re­tirees group

Yuma Sun - - FRONT PAGE - BY BLAKE HERZOG @BLAKEHERZOG

Rep. Char­lene Fernandez, D-Yuma, was rec­og­nized as “Leg­is­la­tor of the Year” by the All Ari­zona School Re­tirees As­so­ci­a­tion dur­ing the group’s an­nual con­ven­tion in Phoenix on Tues­day and Wed­nes­day.

Fernandez, who has her­self been a teacher, said the as­so­ci­a­tion let her know dur­ing the ses­sion that she was un­der con­sid­er­a­tion for the award, so they tracked her move­ment through so­cial me­dia, es­pe­cially dur­ing the Red for Ed move­ment that took con­trol of the agenda dur­ing the bud­get­ing process.

They in­ter­viewed her for the ti­tle as well. “Any time you deal with ed­u­ca­tors, they’re pretty se­ri­ous. They check ALL the boxes,” she said, laugh­ing.

She said though this year was un­usual in the way statewide teacher strikes and protests put ed­u­ca­tion

at the cen­ter of the ses­sion, “I was just pretty much do­ing what I al­ways do,” keep­ing con­stituents in­formed through so­cial me­dia on her progress on var­i­ous is­sues.

“Red for Ed made it es­pe­cially im­por­tant for peo­ple in the out­ly­ing ar­eas, not just Yuma but I have the out­ly­ing ar­eas of Pima, and Pi­nal, and parts of Mari­copa (County), and they need to know what’s go­ing on at our state capi­tol. I height­ened it with the Red for Ed be­cause I was able to post on it all the time, and it was some­thing new.”

As the state House’s mi­nor­ity whip, “I’m the one who makes sure every­body’s on-mes­sage, that we stay to­gether, but I didn’t have to work very hard, the cau­cus mem­bers knew what they had to do and they were able to ex­e­cute it,” she said.

School ad­vo­cates man­aged to se­cure a 19 per­cent raise for teachers be­fore the ses­sion ended, but did not reach the broader goal of restor­ing ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing to pre-2008 lev­els. Fernandez said the teachers had been push­ing for raises for other cam­pus staff as well, along with more fund­ing straight into class­rooms.

“We heard from teachers who had 40 stu­dents in a class­room that’s built for 30. Text­books, desks, just full, some of the kids are on the floor. This is not what we’re about. So they gave us our sto­ries, and we were able to ar­tic­u­late that on the floor on their be­half, so we were re­ally, re­ally their voice,” she said.

She said the AASRA is con­cerned with pen­sions and other re­tiree-spe­cific is­sues, but also takes an ac­tive role in wider de­bates over fund­ing, school vouch­ers and other facets of Ari­zona ed­u­ca­tion.

AARSA Pres­i­dent Jerry Holmes said the group cur­rently has about 1,000 mem­bers who have re­tired as pro­fes­sors, teachers, ad­min­is­tra­tors, custodians, class­room aides and all other facets of public ed­u­ca­tion, through the univer­sity level.

The first Ari­zona chap­ter was formed in 1950 by re­tired Tuc­son ed­u­ca­tors and Dr. Ethel Percy An­drus, a re­tired Cal­i­for­nia school prin­ci­pal who founded the AARP less than a decade later.

Holmes said that ev­ery year, a four-mem­ber leg­isla­tive com­mit­tee re­views the vot­ing records of ev­ery state leg­is­la­tor “to de­ter­mine who con­sis­tently sup­ported ap­pro­pri­ate fund­ing for public ed­u­ca­tion, de­manded high qual­ity teachers and cur­ricu­lum, and ex­pressed ad­vo­cacy for chil­dren.

“Rep. Fernandez met all of our cri­te­ria and has been shown to be a vo­cal ad­vo­cate for high qual­ity, ad­e­quately funded public ed­u­ca­tion in Ari­zona,” he said.

FILE PHOTO BY CE­SAR NEYOY/BAJO EL SOL

“REP. FERNANDEZ (ABOVE) MET ALL OF OUR CRI­TE­RIA and has been shown to be a vo­cal ad­vo­cate for high qual­ity, ad­e­quately funded public ed­u­ca­tion in Ari­zona,” says Jerry Holmes, pres­i­dent of All Ari­zona School Re­tirees As­so­ci­a­tion.

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