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Teacher recruiting, retention challenges loom over Southern Arizona schools

Former TUSD educator, advocate in retirement shares thoughts on needs for more supportive funding policy
Posted: 3:26 PM, May 26, 2022
Updated: 2022-05-26 18:54:17-04

School districts across Southern Arizona face similar cost and job challenges, much like in other communities across the country.

Some educators, like Barbara Matteson, have argued one of the best solutions is to better fund public schools, and in particular, those in Arizona.

Matteson took her decades of experience in the classroom and applied the same passion when working to lead other retired educators as part of a national labor advocacy group.

Days removed from a milestone birthday, she said she does not mind making time on her schedule to continue to put pressure on decision makers in school boards and the state legislature.

Matteson's first schoolhouse, growing up in Minnesota, made such an impact, it moved her to dedicate her career to education. "One teacher, 30 students, sometimes all grades... I only lived 15 miles from St. Paul, Minnesota," she said.

Looking back on the photos that capture now 90 years worth of life, Matteson says she's looking forward to the time she can dedicate back to bills that in turn support Arizona teachers working right now in schools.

"I loved my job. I mean, it was frustrating at times," she said, "But I always felt like people appreciated my work, and the kids generally did." "We're 49th in pay and everything else. You're not going to get teachers... who's going to want to do a job like that?"

Earlier this month, the Tucson Unified School District approved thebiggest pay raise for educators in the district's history. The agreement came following negotiations with the Tucson Education Association, acting as the labor union on behalf of educators.

Teachers, in theory, will receive a $2,500 raise plus bonuses and ongoing funds from AZ Proposition 301. Matteson, in retirement, worked to advocate and negotiate teachers' pensions as president of the National Education Association's-Retired council.

"Funding was what was needed to keep class size down, and have the materials we need, and the psychologists help," she said. "We needed the bus drivers and all of that, and now, it's a real struggle for the districts to have all of those things."

Another factor Matteson thinks districts need to consider is finding people interested in coming to teach in local schools full time. This year, the Arizona Board of Education lifted its four-month work limit for certified substitute teachers. That now lets them teach up to the point a regular teacher is hired.

Matteson said she thinks state board members' support of requiring fewer teacher certifications without formal training will not secure a pool of professionals for the long term.

José Zozaya is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9. Before arriving in southern Arizona, José worked in Omaha, Nebraska where he covered issues ranging from local, state and federal elections, to toxic chemical spills, and community programs impacting immigrant families. Share your story ideas and important issues with José by emailing or by connecting on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.