‘I just want what we deserve’: Arizona teachers call on Ducey to hike pay

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Republic reporter Craig Harris and government accountability editor Pat Flannery discuss Gov. Doug Ducey’s pay raises to staffers in the context of the state budget. Sean Logan/azcentral.com

Arizona teachers and parents brought signs and peanuts — a symbol of low pay — to the state Capitol on Monday evening to rally for teacher pay raises.

The demonstration came in the wake of a report by The Arizona Republic that Gov. Doug Ducey gave many of his top staff a 20 percent pay raise earlier this year.

Monday’s protest came after a similar rally Friday, in which Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas called on Ducey to give teachers a similar raise. The governor and the Republican-controlled Legislature gave educators a 1 percent annual stipend for this year and next.

Teachers on Monday said the raise amounted to about $6 a week, and they aren’t happy.

Many carried signs with slogans such as, “For sale, our children’s future,” “I can’t afford to become a teacher,” and ”Don’t make me use my teacher voice.”

Roxanne Lopez, who has been teaching in Arizona for 23 years, said she’s tired of seeing her colleagues leave the profession because they can’t afford to stay.

“I’m not here to say, ‘I want more money, I want more money,’ ” she said. “I just want what we deserve.”

Lopez argued that it is impossible to expect quality teachers and a quality education system if teachers aren’t paid more.

In a statement Friday, Ducey’s office defended the governor’s decision to give raises to his staff.

The office noted that Ducey has 10 fewer staffers than his predecessor, former Gov. Jan Brewer, and that the governor’s staff budget has not increased since 2008.

It also said that agency directors who received pay raises had either been promoted or given more responsibility, and that some had salaries that were lower than their peers in local governments.

“To imply that these directors have reaped some sort of undeserved windfall is nonsense, and shows a total lack of understanding — or willful ignorance — of how organizations work and how to promote talent within state government,” the statement said.

In regards to teacher pay, however, the office simply said that Ducey, who wants to be known as the “education governor,” has added new money to public K-12 education.

A common sentiment from teachers at Monday’s protest was that they’ve never been in it for the money but can’t continue to live with paychecks below the state median household income.

In 2015, the state median income was about $51,000. Teachers in the state made about $47,000.

“I moved here five years ago, and it was the biggest mistake of my life,” Joyce Baird said.

Baird, a teacher at Sunnyslope High School, makes $10,000 less now than she did 15 years ago.

“I’m below median income for the state, and I have a master’s degree and 25 years of experience,” she said. “I feel very disrespected.”

Arizona teachers are among the worst paid in the nation — high school teachers in the state ranked No. 48 overall in 2016, according to the National Education Association.

Ducey proposed a 2 percent increase for teachers’ pay over five years. The Legislature in May approved the increase, but over two years.

According to the Arizona Education Association, a 20 percent pay hike would boost the average elementary school teacher’s salary to $51,276. High school teachers would earn $57,624.

After the group of about 50 people marched in front of the Capitol on Monday, Ellen Sizemore yelled through a megaphone, “Now everyone has to go back to their second jobs.”

Sizemore, a teacher at Barry Goldwater High School, said she, like many other teachers she knows, has had to work two jobs since college. She never thought she would have to work two jobs once she started her career.

“I’m getting too old for that,” she said. “I’m tired, but I can’t afford to quit my second job.”

Sizemore said she hopes Ducey will take notice of the protest and of what they had to say, but said she doesn’t expect much.

David Garcia, a former Arizona associate state superintendent of education who is challenging Ducey in 2018, said he doesn’t think there’s a chance the current governor will make a change.

“I don’t think he will because he’s made a promise to cut taxes every year,” Garcia said. “I don’t know how you reward teachers and make a meaningful change if that’s something you’ve already promised. The reality is … none of this is going to change.”

If the governor won’t raise teacher pay, Garcia said Ducey should lower his own pay to equal that of teachers and see if it changes his mind.

Originally published by Alexis Egeland with the Arizona Republic on October 23, 2017 at 8:06pm