Pursuit of equitable education funding defines Scottsdale #RedforEd movement

A view of a Red for Ed rally in front of Scottsdale Unified School District’s Old Town Scottsdale headquarters on Wednesday, May 2. (Independent Newsmedia/Melissa Fittro)

On the fifth day of a teacher walkout, about 100 Scottsdale teachers, parents and community members donning red shirts took their rally to Scottsdale Unified School District headquarters, as an email from district officials announcing Thursday, May 3, as a workday hit employee inboxes.

However, not all students will be returning to classrooms, according to the emailed letter from Acting Superintendent Dr. Amy Fuller.

“I am writing this afternoon to let you know tomorrow, Thursday, May 3, WILL be a workday for all SUSD employees,” the May 2 email from Dr. Fuller reads. “All certified and classified staff should report to work at your regular time. If you will be absent tomorrow for any reason, please submit your leave.”

SUSD Public Information Officer Erin Helm told the Independent the letter will allow classified employees to be paid, and help prevent teachers from working into the summer. Teachers can still use their employee-leave, Ms. Helm said.

The only two schools to re-open on Thursday, May 3, are Ingleside Middle School and Pima Elementary School, according to a 3 p.m. Twitter announcement by Scottsdale Schools. Students should report to school at the regular time, and bus transportation will be running for those two schools.

The Wednesday afternoon rally is part of a state-wide teacher walkout stemming from what educators consider a lack of classroom funding for years. Wednesday is day five of the walkout.

Scottsdale Schools May 1 absence call-in sheet pointed to more than 900 teachers from 29 schools reporting their inclusion in the walkout to their superiors.

Dr. Fuller’s letter additionally states that most schools remain closed on Thursday, but that those teachers who are working at schools without students “will have meaningful work to do.”

For the past five school days, the district has been closed due to the determination of having insufficient staff to safely open the campuses.

Teachers have been paid during this time, while classified employees — janitors, kitchen staff, bus drivers — have not been earning their paycheck.

The decision to return to work on Thursday is an attempt to mitigate the impact of the walkout, Dr. Fuller contends.

Additionally, a decision has been made that SUSD staff will be required to work:

  • Friday, May 25;
  • Tuesday, May 29;
  • Wednesday, May 30;
  • Thursday, May 31;
  • Friday, June 1.

The student calendar is separate and still under evaluation, Dr. Fuller’s email stated.

Teachers out in front of SUSD’s headquarters, 7575 E. Main St. in Old Town Scottsdale, say they are prepared to continue their walkout until Arizona’s lawmakers sign legislation that improves funding.

Arizona House Bill 2663 and Senate Bill 1521 are the documents that all eyes are on. It had its first House read on April 30, with a second read on May 1.

Representatives for the Arizona Education Association say they oppose the budget bill because it fails to adequately and sustainably fund public education.

“While this bill moves the needle, it does not go far enough,” AEA President Joe Thomas said in a May 2 prepared statement. “It does not restore the more than $1 billion taken from our students and it leaves our school support staff like counselors, bus drivers, librarians and many more who are vital to the success of our students.”

A kindergarten classroom-aide holds up a sign at the Red for Ed rally on Wednesday. (Independent Newsmedia/Melissa Fittro)

Red for Ed on Main Street

In Old Town Scottsdale several people wearing red shirts, hats and donning various signs walked around Civic Center Mall, stretching down Main Street.

The main group of demonstrators were in front of the district headquarters building.

Scottsdale Education Association President and middle school teacher Julie Cieniawski says the day before a number of SUSD teachers were at the Capitol listening to the House Appropriations Committee.

Julie Cieniawski

“This morning we pulled all of our employee representatives down at the Capitol and we have agreed to follow our leadership and be out until it’s signed. The Legislature said they were going to sign it by Thursday. I’m hearing all sorts of messages including from Representatives saying this is falling apart, they’ve done the delay-tactics long enough,” Ms. Cieniawski said, pointing to a theory that legislatures are only saying they will sign the bill Thursday so that teachers go back to work.

“Poor intentions, it’s a bunch of dishonest people that represent us. So right now we’re in it for the long haul, we’ve agreed to stay in it until it’s signed, as of right now.”

Compromise is key, Ms. Cieniawski says, and even if the legislation isn’t perfect in the end, it will be better than where they started.

“We are all about compromise. Come together collectively and discuss challenges and then come to consensus,” she said. “We all agree as a group to live with the results, it may not be what I want, it may not be what you want but we live with those results. That’s what we want with our district, that’s what we want at the Capitol.”

The K-12 education budget started with about $156 million being put in to public education, and they’ve made it to be $440 million, Ms. Cieniawski explained.

“That’s more money than we’ve seen in our public schools since 2008. We are going to benefit from this advocacy work right now if they just follow that, let alone all the other issues they’ve embedded into this.”

SUSD teacher Mike Sampson says he supports the walkout to sustain the future of public education.

“I’m retiring next year, so it’s more about those teachers who are still going to be here, and those new ones coming in. I mean some of the things we have to put up with in this state is just ridiculous,” Mr. Sampson said.

Demonstrators met at Civic Center Mall in Old Town Scottsdale. (Independent Newsmedia/Melissa Fittro)

Regina Morgan, a teacher for 36 years, with 16 being at SUSD says she has a masters degree plus 72 hours, which is equivalent to a PhD.

“I just figured out my salary while doing this, and it was like $550 per week,” she said.

“And it’s not about the money, what it’s about is the things we need for our students. The smaller class sizes, the social studies book we are using right now has a date of 2001 — there was some history that happened between 2001 and now.”

Ms. Morgan says she is in a position where she can retire, but she worries about her younger colleagues.

“I worry about the young people in my school, the young teachers, that they will be able to stay and not have three jobs to survive,” she said.

“And that the students at ASU will continue to go into education to continue to do what they need to do. Those are the reasons I’m out here. I’m for the people that are coming, and for the kids so they have the best conditions possible.”

Mr. Sampson agreed with Ms. Morgan, stating that the average salary is not as high as some people believe it is. He says he has been a teacher for 17 years and his teaching contract was $42,800.

Ms. Morgan says she plans to remain diligent to the end.

“We’re not going to let them do something strange at the last minute,” she said. “Until it’s signed, yes. I’m not sure I trust anything that they’re doing at this point because they’ve taken education funding away a lot.”

Northeast Valley News Services Editor Melissa Rosequist can be e-mailed at mrosequist@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/mrosequist_.

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