Fernandez named legislator of year by school retirees group
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.
“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.