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Arizona Teachers Call Strike Vote Despite Raise Plan

AP Photo/Matt York

Arizona teachers who have pushed for big raises and an increase in school funding say Gov. Doug Ducey's teacher raise proposal falls short and they're moving to take a strike vote.

The leaders of the grassroots group Arizona Educators United posted a video on Facebook Sunday night saying three days of voting begins Tuesday.

The Republican governor last week proposed a 9 percent teacher pay raise this year and 10 percent more by 2020, on top of 1 percent they are getting this year.

But he did not address teachers' other demands — including raises for support staff, a return to pre-Great Recession school funding levels and no more tax cuts until school spending reached the national average.

Ducey has not provided details of how he plans to fund the raises over the long-term. Instead, he said stronger state tax collections from a growing economy, lower social services spending, government "efficiencies" and a decision to drop some of his budget priorities will fund the $274 million raise next year. By 2020, it's expected to cost $650 million.

"One of the main things is we don't have a sustainable revenue source to fund these raises. What that means is that these are empty promises," teacher and organizer Noah Karvelis told members in the video. "We don't know where that money will come from to sustain this over time.

He said the governor's pledge also "does not do enough for our kids and colleagues," he said.

Over the weekend, Ducey won support from business community members in a social media blitz. Arizona Cardinals President Michael Bidwill and Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Glen Hamer posted videos backing the plan. So did some education groups and Ducey administration staffers.

"The fact is that that good policy is coming out of this administration and I think you're seeing people step up to the plate and support it, Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said. "This is a policy proposal and one that we need to get across the finish line."

Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature didn't embrace the teachers' rejection of the governor's proposal.

"It's unfortunate that some people in Arizona can't get used to taking yes for an answer," Rep. Maria Syms of Paradise Valley said Monday.

Rep. Anthony Kern called the refusal of teachers to settle for a big pay boost "a joke" that will hurt them.

"I've heard teacher pay, teacher pay, teacher pay since I've been down here," Kern said. "And now they're extending the people that they would like to get raises. I think the Legislature's doing everything they can to put enough money in teachers' salaries."

In the Senate, President Steve Yarbrough said teachers might pay a big political price if they strike.

"I guess they'll just have to do what they'll have to do and we'll see if the public finds that activity honorable or not," Yarbrough said. "I think to strike when you've signed a contract is frankly dishonorable, and I think you are sacrificing the education of students for your own well-being."

The bigger issue for Sen. John Kavanagh, the Republican who heads the appropriations committee, is finding the money.

"That level just for K-12 might be attainable, but there's going to an awful lot of deprivation everywhere else in government, and that concerns a lot of members," Kavanagh said.

School districts are thinking about what to do if a strike is called.

The Arizona School Board Association has offered guidance to superintendents, school administrators and governing boards on how to prepare for a possible walk-out.

In the Flagstaff Unified School District, Superintendent Michael Penca said he hopes for a week's notice of a walk-out date in to give time for parents to make child care plans.

"Anything we can think about in advance is worthwhile," he said.


Associated Press reporter Melissa Daniels in Phoenix contributed to this report.

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