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4:09 PM Sat, Sept. 22nd

Arizona teachers vote to walk out

Schools across the state could be forced to close if walkout lasts multiple days

More than 100 teachers, parents, support staff, students and supporters march at Bradshaw Mountain High School to support pay raises for teachers in Arizona on Wednesday, April 11, 2018. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

More than 100 teachers, parents, support staff, students and supporters march at Bradshaw Mountain High School to support pay raises for teachers in Arizona on Wednesday, April 11, 2018. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

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“This is undeniably and clearly a mandate for action’ - Noah Karvelis, Arizona Educators United

Teachers express overwhelming support for strike

The vote is in — some 78 percent of more than 57,000 Arizona teachers who submitted ballots favor a walkout.

So what does that mean in the Quad Cities? Nobody seems to know.

RedForEd is an outside group. They don’t dictate what happens in our school district,” said Prescott Unified District Superintendent Joe Howard on Thursday afternoon. “It’s one thing to mark an x on paper and put it in a box, and another thing not to show up to your job.”

Howard said he has endorsed the effort of all educators to unite for the sake of higher salaries and more equitable funding to benefit students across the state. He’s not OK with walking out on the very children these professionals have pledged to serve and who they say are the reason behind the protests.

“I’m all about bringing the priority of education to the forefront … but walking out is a whole different discussion,” he said.

The notion of shutting down in the final days of the school year pose some logistical, and legal, issues for districts. School districts are required to offer 180 days of student instruction. If schools must close for weather, or for any other reason, such as a walk out, those days have to added to the calendar.

In previous conversations about possible walkouts, area superintendents said they could cobble together enough administrators and substitutes to operate their schools for one day.

If a strike, or walkout, continues multiple days, with 40 percent or more of faculty and staff absent, schools would be forced to close.

Need to know

• Walkout planned for Thursday, April 26

• More than 57,000 teachers vote

“All I know is I have school scheduled,” Howard said. “We have people flying in for graduation (scheduled for Friday, May 25). We want to take care of our business.”

Prior to the vote, Humboldt Unified District Superintendent Dan Streeter said the situation was too fluid to predict.

He said he has stayed in conversation with local #RedForEd organizers and expects to continue with those talks.

“There are a lot of moving parts,” Streeter said Thursday afternoon.

Area teachers, too, have mixed reactions.

On Wednesday, a number of teachers said they were prepared to walkout. Many said they hoped Gov. Doug Ducey and other state lawmakers would ensure such an action would not be necessary. A few said they don’t want to be political pawns in a game with no winners.

A day later, local organizers deferred to the grassroots coalition, Arizona Educators United, to make any formal statements related to vote results. Others opted not to return messages.

Speaking anonymously due to the volatility of this debate, some teachers in the region prior to the vote Thursday night said they wholeheartedly embrace the movement. They see Ducey’s offer as strictly a political move that has little chance of improving education. Still, they don’t want to suffer a community backlash from a walkout that disrupts parents’ lives, and the lives of their children.

The last thing they want is for education funding to be further diminished, or for teachers and their advocates to be deemed greedy for seeking more.

One teacher analogized the latest developments to a chess game.

“We’ll just have to wait and see who comes up with check mate,” the teacher said.

Yavapai County Schools Superintendent Tim Carter said he suspects rural Arizona will respond to the call for a walk out far differently than the big cities.

He noted that 80 percent of this state’s teachers work in 20 percent of the state’s public schools.

As for how districts will react, Carter said that will depend on the district.

Carter doesn’t think teachers will lose jobs, even though state statute does, effectively, make it illegal for teachers to strike.

The biggest consequence for teachers might be losing the public support they have garnered without a strike, he said.

The practicalities of a walk out could become a “mess” for parents, students and communities, and he said he believes any such “mess would viewed in a very negative light.”

His sense, though, is teachers and staff in this region are well aware of those realities.

“I’m not thinking this is going to be a massive issue in rural Arizona,” Carter said.

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