Education leaders demand Ducey give teachers 20 percent raises

Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, said teachers deserve the same 20 percent raises Gov. Doug Ducey gave his staff, according to The Arizona Republic. (Photo by Paola Garcia/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Leaders of a major Arizona teacher organization said Friday they were outraged when Gov. Doug Ducey reportedly gave several members of his staff 20 percent raises while teachers are getting a one percent salary increase, saying educators deserve more money.

“Our teachers are waiting for a one percent stipend, that’s what the Legislature and governor found in the budget to give,” Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, said at a news conference at the state Capitol.

An investigation by The Arizona Republic showed Ducey gave 44 staff members raises of up to 20 percent each over the past 2.5 years.

Ducey has touted education as important to Arizona, saying in a January 2015 statement on the Classrooms First website that “In my administration, we will honor teachers and the work they do.”

Thomas said the value given to a teacher who will receive a one-percent bump this year and next year will amount to around $300 to $400 annually for some teachers. That’s not enough for the hard work they put into educating students, he said.

“We’re calling for a 20 percent raise for teachers’ salaries to end the teaching crisis,” Thomas said, adding that 500 teachers quit this year to move to better-paying states and jobs.

Government reports have shown Arizona has trouble retaining teachers for more than five years and teacher salaries are among the lowest in the nation.

Patrick Ptak, senior press secretary and spokesman for the Governor’s office, in statement said government budget and staff has been reduced, with raises to governor’s office staff “given through promotion with expanded roles and responsibilities using existing dollars.”

An estimated $68 million is going to a pay raise for teachers, the statement says, calling the news conference a “partisan exercise…based on flawed data and misinformation.” The statement says Ducey will do “whatever he can” to help teacher salaries.

Amy Ball, a kindergarten teacher at Madison Traditional Academy, said she finds it hard to encourage teachers to stay in the profession when she sees how they are struggling to support their families.

“I immediately think of my good friend, a 14-year veteran teacher, who is also a single mom with two kids,” Ball said.

The friend said a one-percent raise can’t help her afford her son’s orthodontist bills and will barely cover one month’s worth of groceries for her family. She adds water to her milk to make it last longer.

“If our current leadership doesn’t understand what teachers give each day, I invite them to join a teacher in a public classroom one full day and then tell me who deserves a 20 percent raise,” Ball said.

Marisol Garcia, vice president of the AEA and a teacher in the Isaac School District, said her income as a teacher made her eligible for government support when she moved from California to Arizona five years ago.

“I got a letter about two weeks later telling me that my son and I were eligible for reduced lunch,” and Garcia said she felt humiliated knowing that she worked so hard to get into this profession and was making barely above the poverty line.

Democrat David Garcia, an education leadership professor who will run against Ducey in the next election, said teachers would get a salary increase.

“We need to first and foremost pay teachers. We need to treat our teachers as professionals,” David Garcia said. “This is a leadership problem where we have too many loopholes and exit strategies so that our schools are not getting the funding they deserve.”

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correctly attribute the statement to Patrick Ptak, senior press secretary and spokesman for the governor’s office, instead of Gov. Doug Ducey. Also, Joe Thomas was misidentified in a photo.