Originally Published: April 19, 2018 6:03 a.m.
Updated as of Thursday, April 19, 2018 11:58 AM
The momentum behind the #RedForEd movement has not lost its gusto in the Quad Cities.
On Wednesday morning, more than 100 educators, students and advocates across area districts hoisted banners and united to again urge communities and lawmakers to make Arizona a state that values public schools. They stated they are still seeking recognition and appreciation for all those who have taken a solemn vow to instruct and nurture the nation’s next generation of engineers, architects, politicians, journalists, and teachers.
“It shouldn’t have come to this, but I’m glad we’re united as a state,” said Bradshaw Mountain High School guidance counselor Jan Wissell, as she participated in the second statewide #RedForEd walk-in rally staged in the last week.
In neighboring Prescott, two-thirds of the Mile High Middle School staff stood in solidarity because they see that the time is now to push state leaders to put public education on the front rather than back burner.
“We are so appreciative of what our community has done for our schools, and now we just are asking our legislators to do the same thing,” said Prescott Mile High Middle School English teacher Lisa Groves.
Prescott taxpayers three years ago approved a $15 million bond and $6 million override. Those override dollars were used to give just over a 5 percent raise to all faculty and staff in the district; in the years since the Governing Board has continued to raise salaries with the goal of staying competitive with the state average that still is near the bottom of the nation.
One day after the April 11 walk-in event, Gov. Doug Ducey announced a proposal to offer a 20 percent pay increase to all teachers over the course of the next three years; 9 percent for next year.
Area superintendents saw Ducey’s proposal as a move in the right direction, with high hopes it will thwart any walk-out threats that would interfere with school operations.
“For the first time in a long, long time, I feel listened to at the state level,” said Prescott Unified School District Superintendent Joe Howard, who was among a group of about 18 superintendents who had some “tough conversations” with Ducey last week.
Howard said he will not endorse a walkout – all employees will be held to the district’s policies on personal leave and absences or face the consequences.
“I never thought we would see that much this quickly … I’m greatly encouraged now,” Howard said.
Rank-and-file teachers and support staff fear Ducey has offered an idle promise, with no guarantees behind the salary increases he suggests and no dollars proposed to make for all the millions in cuts public education has been forced to endure over the last decade.
A number of teachers and staff across the region said they’re prepared for a walkout if need be. Arizona Educators United has called for a statewide vote on Friday.
“I hope a walkout doesn’t happen … I really hope it doesn’t come to that,” Groves said.
Carrying a poster that reads, “The BEST because our students are the BEST,” Bradshaw Mountain High School geometry teacher Allison Smith said she is prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure her students and those across the state are given the tools and instructors they need to be successful.
“We have the momentum now. Let’s fix it while we can,” Smith said.
A number of participants feared the potential backlash of a walkout. Yet they said they will do whatever has to be done to make certain this state’s lawmakers do what this state’s children deserve.
“We’re doing this to raise awareness of the need to get education funded across-the-board and to make it consistent,” Prescott Mile High Middle School life skills teacher Molly Littrell said. “I think this is energizing … We have to do what’s right for kids.”