Teachers fight budget
May. 21, 2006
About 50 teachers and school staff gathered outside the Capitol last week to let
lawmakers know what they think of their proposed funding plan for public
education. "Stack 'em high, teach 'em cheap" read one sign.
"No kindergartener left behind," read another.
The state's budget is still being negotiated with wide variations in the
education funding called for by Gov. Janet Napolitano and the plan proposed by
lawmakers. One who attended the rally was Mindy Whalen, who teaches in the
Washington Elementary School District, has 15 years of experience, and earns
$42,405. She is president-elect of the district's teachers union and teaches
reading to eighth-grade students at Palo Verde Middle School in Phoenix. Whalen
offered her thoughts on the legislative proposal and education funding in
Arizona to reporter Carrie Watters.
Question: What does the Legislature's proposal mean to you?
Answer: The Washington Elementary School District has offered everyone a flat
$500 raise. This will not cover the 1.7 percent increase we must pay to state
retirement. However, it doesn't end there. The district is requiring a $500
share-of-cost for maintaining a health plan that is now free, while doubling the
annual deductible on another.
Now, they will tell you they are giving us a $3,100 package. It sounds good, but
the amount includes voter-approved compensation Proposition 301 monies.
Voters never intended these monies to be used as a leveraging piece in a
district-negotiated package. It's smoke-and-mirrors accounting.
Q: What is your take on the Legislature's proposed education budget?
A: The proposal appropriates $105 million, but specifies it to only go to the
kindergarten through third-grade classes. Thus, Grades 4-12 will receive no new
funding. Excluding the high school districts will impact an estimated 4,000
teachers and 90,000 students.
Additionally, this budget does not fund the $45 million necessary to offset the
increased cost for employee retirement, nor does it provide any funding to
increase teacher salaries.
There is irony in a budget that gives away an additional $15 million in
corporate tax credits and vouchers to private schools in the name of choice and
at the same time requires public schools to choose which program won't be funded
because there is not adequate funds available.
Q: What message do you want to send lawmakers?
A: Stop playing politics with the education of our children. We want to see a
firm commitment to public education in this state. We want to see funding every
year that will bring Arizona from the bottom to the top. We may never again have
a surplus available that will allow us to truly invest in the education of our
children. Now is the time.
We are waiting for a budget that responds to the needs of parents, children and
school employees. We are waiting for a budget that raises the minimum salary for
teachers and school employees, holds school employees harmless for rising
retirement costs, funds full-day kindergarten, and provides new money for all
grades, not just kindergarten through third.
Q: Teachers held signs at the rally: "Working harder. Getting poorer." Why are
teachers working harder?
A: Teachers are doing more assessments with their students, which require hours
of computer data entry. Also, they are expected to adopt new curriculum in order
to stay up with the latest educational methods. These important tools are
necessary, but time-consuming.
Additionally, educational requirements contained in the No Child Left Behind Act
offer no money for the continuing education it requires. Teachers are forced to
take additional tests and classes just to keep their existing job.
And how do they pay for it? Out of their own pockets.
The rising influx of English language learners also adds to the workload.
These students require special attention and teaching methods. The already-high
class sizes filled with students of all ability levels makes the job even more
The proposed budget does not address class size or English language learners.
Q: Why is education funding so frequently the stumbling block in the state
A: Unfortunately, legislative leadership has made public education a partisan
issue. The leadership seems to be more invested in dismantling the public
education system than enriching and enhancing it. Annually, they are throwing
more and more money towards private and charter school funding and less and less
to public-education enrichment. Elected officials, who advocate for a strong,
constitutionally guaranteed education system find themselves at odds with these
tactics. And so, we have the stumbling block.
Here's the dilemma for school districts: They can't be sure of their funding
levels until the Legislature adopts a budget. They want to get teacher contracts
out in a timely manner in order to recruit new teachers to their districts and
retain the ones they have. So they put contracts out based on their best
estimate. Then some districts allow for contingency language in their contracts
and others don't. If additional money came in from the state that was intended
for an increase in the base salary, without contingency language, they couldn't
pay it out without asking teachers to do additional work. Then it becomes a gift
of public funds issue. This is an irresponsible way of doing business; there is
no uniformity of teacher contracts.
Q: A modest salary has long been part and parcel of being a teacher. Why are
Arizona teachers upset?
A: A decision to teach in Arizona is not about a willingness to accept a modest
income. It's about legislative leadership refusing to fund education at levels
that allow you to maintain a modest income. Arizona pays its teachers $5,000
below the national average. Arizona has the second-largest classroom sizes in
the nation. Arizona is 50th in per-pupil spending. This isn't about modesty.
It's downright embarrassing.