District leaders showing support for teachers while trying to stop a walk out

TUCSON, Ariz. - As teachers in Arizona vote on whether or not to stage a walk out district superintendents are forced to walk a fine line: showing support for their staff but convincing them not to walk out.

Teachers and staff who work for the Amphi School District lined intersections along 17 miles of Oracle Road Tuesday, waving signs and trying to rally support as they fight for higher salaries and more classroom funding. Their boss, Todd Jaeger, stood with them.

Jaeger says he supports the teachers and their efforts but hopes they don't walk out.

"I appreciate where they're coming from, but that's my limit, I have to stop there," he said.  

Jeager says students would be hurt if a walk out forced schools to give up a day of instruction.

"I think it sends a mixed message," he said.

Jaeger acknowledged he was in tough spot. He isn't alone. Last week, district governing boards adopted, or planned to adopt, resolutions supporting teachers but now leaders say they can't support a work stoppage.

Tucson Unified School District, the second largest in the state, adopted a resolution supporting teachers the same day Mesa Schools, the largest district, did so unanimously. Marana Superintendent Doug Wilson told staff in a letter he supports them and the philosophy behind the #RedforEd movement.

Sunnyside Unified School District Board President Buck Crouch says he believes his district will adopt a resolution supporting the teachers. But Crouch says he wouldn't fully support a work stoppage.

"I think it would be very detrimental for our children," he said.

Crouch was also adamant about supporting teachers.

"I believe our teachers need more pay. They are the front line of schools and without them learning won't go on,' Crouch said.

Leaders of the Arizona Educators United group and the Arizona Education Association have said Gov. Doug Ducey's plan to give teachers a 20 percent pay raise by 2020 does not meet their demands. Their chief concerns are that it does not also allocate money for raises for staff and it does not identify a permanent, dedicated funding source for the raises.

Tuesday, economists and policy advisors from the Governor's office said the proposal is possible because the economy is growing faster than projected and the state government is operating more efficiently, creating a surplus. The plan also involves scaling back budget proposals the governor made in January and sweeping surplus funds from other state departments.

Vail Superintendent Calvin Baker commended the Governor for his teacher pay raise plan when it was announced and said he hopes it would be enough to curtail talk of a walk out. He fears what a walk out could do to workplace atmosphere.

"We've got outstanding teachers, we've got an outstanding community," Baker said. "The last thing we wanted was for people to have to say, 'I'm going to be in this group' and 'I'm going to be in that group,' and 'I'm going to show up for work' and 'I'm not going to show up for work.'"

Tuesday Tucson Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Gabriel Trujillo said he does not support a walk out. He said his staff has assembled a team to make contingency plans if one does occur.  

Trujillo said if there is a prolonged work stoppage that affects final exam schedules it is possible high school graduation schedules could be impacted.

"If everything comes to a screeching halt we have an academic issue where we would not be able to certify them as graduates," Dr. Trujillo said.

He said in the event of a work stoppage TUSD would attempt to keep schools open and some bus routes operating so kids could come to schools for meals and for a place to spend the day. Trujillo said some district parents may struggle to find child care during a walk out, even if it is just for one day.

"I always have hope in the collaborative process. I hope parties keep talking. I hope there's something meaningful that comes out of all this," He said.

He said district administration had not discussed possible discipline for teachers or staff wo participate in a walk out. Trujillo said he is not worried about potential staff conflicts if some choose to walk out and others do not.

"Differing sides, differing perspectives on this issue, I think at the end of the day will be respected and welcomed," he said.

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