PHOENIX – Gov. Doug Ducey on Friday responded to plans for a teacher walkout by vetoing 10 bills and calling for legislators to craft a budget that includes his plan to increase teacher pay by 20 percent by 2020.
Organizers with Arizona Educators United announced the walkout Thursday night, effective April 26. Leaders said 78 percent of the 57,000 educators who voted supported the walkout.
It is believed to be the first statewide teacher walkout in Arizona’s history.
Teachers, who in some districts were told to use sick or personal days for the walkout, may face repercussions, including being fired and replaced if the walkout continues for an extended period. By law, Arizona must provide 180 school days each year.
Friday, Ducey vetoed 10 bills on his desk, each time sending a variation of the same letter back to House Speaker J.D. Mesnard asking the speaker to send him a state budget that gives teachers a 20 percent raise by 2020 and “restores additional assistance” to schools.
“Our teachers have earned this raise,” the governor wrote in the letters. “It’s time to get it done.”
Ducey, however, has refused to consider tax increases to pay for more education funding, instead hoping the economy will continue to flourish.
Republican legislators did not immediately react to the vetoes, and they have not commented on the decision to walk out.
In a statement Friday, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas implored educators to not walk off the job, asking that they wait for the Legislature to act.
““If the teachers do not give the leadership at the Capitol the time to implement their salary increase, I’m afraid that striking will only hurt students and parents, while simultaneously setting back their own cause,” she said.
Several Democratic groups said they supported the teacher walkout.
“Through numerous walk-ins and protests, Arizonans have finally said enough is enough,” the Arizona Democratic Party said Friday. “This isn’t ‘political theater’ – it’s about respecting our teachers and building a brighter future for Arizona.”
House Democratic leader Rebecca Rios called on school districts to support the teachers and other educators during the walkout.
“The women and men who work so hard to educate our children at our neighborhood public schools have earned a meaningful and sustainable pay raise that’s based on a real revenue source, not smoke and mirrors,” she said.
School districts around the state have begun informing parents that schools could be shut down by the end of next week. Madison Elementary School District, Alhambra Elementary School District and Mesa Public Schools are among the districts that have begun informing parents about the closures.
Madison district officials expect to announce Monday night what schools will close.
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Before Thursday’s vote, Mesa Public Schools Superintendent Michael Cowen sent an email to teachers saying Arizona’s largest school district’s 64,000 students would be shut out of school until teachers return to their classrooms.
The Cartwright School District Governing Board is planning to close all 20 of the district’s campuses next Thursday if an agreement is not met with educators. More details would be made available Monday, officials said.
Paradise Valley School District officials told families in a letter Friday that student safety was the deciding factor in closing schools during the walkout.
“I have said all along that we will not put students and staff in an unsafe situation,” said a letter signed by Superintendent James Lee. “I believe the decision to close school is in the best interest of our students and staff.”
Alhambra Elementary superintendent Mark Yslas said in a letter to parents he anticipates a “large percentage of staff participating in this walkout” and plans to close all district schools next Thursday. However, he said district officials expect teachers to return to their classrooms by Friday.
Meanwhile, districts are working on how to provide for students during the walkout, including childcare services for younger children, handicapped students and meals for students who rely on school programs.
Walkout organizers said the protest has no definite end date, and will continue until the Legislature comes to the table on all five demands educators have made.
“We are underfunding our students,” said Noah Karvelis, a leader of Arizona Educators United. “We are throwing away an entire generation’s chance at academic success.”
The demands included the 20 percent pay increase for teachers; the restoration of education funding to 2008 levels; competitive pay for support staff members; a permanent ladder for wage increases based on experience; and a suspension of tax cuts until the state’s per-pupil funding reaches the national average. Leaders estimated Arizona spends $3,300 less per student.
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