Arizona teachers planning walk-ins as they call for higher pay

PHOENIX - Inspired by the solidarity displayed among their colleagues across the country, Arizona teachers are behind a movement to increase teacher pay say they are not backing down.

"Over the last few weeks, it's been the most exciting time in my career as an advocate for students, an advocate for educators. To see people throughout the country standing up to be treated like the professionals we are, I get goosebumps. I get excited to see my colleagues, my brothers, and sisters from all these other states standing up," said Marisol Garcia, the Vice President of the Arizona Education Association and a teacher at Isaac Middle School in Phoenix.

She's not alone.

Noah Karvelis, a music teacher at Tres Rios Elementary school in Tolleson, said he felt empowered by the actions that have taken place in West Virginia, Kentucky, and now Oklahoma.

Starting this Wednesday, organizers say you will see teachers standing outside several schools throughout the Valley.  

They will be holding up signs and sharing their stories. They are asking the community to join them as they "walk in" to their schools in a show of solidarity.

"We want parents to, instead of dropping their kids off, park and come be with us in front of the students," Garcia said.

Parents are asked to check in with their local school districts or teachers to find out if any walk-ins are scheduled this week, but organizers say on Wednesday, April 11, there will be a statewide walk-in scheduled at schools throughout Arizona.

Gina Joaquim is not a teacher but a Phoenix resident who supports the Red for Ed Movement. 

"It needs to happen. Teachers need to get that money, they need to get a raise," Joaquim said. 

Joaquim is one of many residents in the Arcadia area who tied red bows and ribbons to their trees as a show of support for teachers. 

"I think it's really nice to show solidarity for the teachers because I've always been saying the teachers don't get enough and they are a very important part of our children's lives," Joaquim said.

ABC15 checked in with several Valley school districts, we have been told the scheduled walk-ins will not disrupt classes. School will go on as scheduled on those days.

Arizona teachers say they're tired of being among the lowest paid teachers in the country.  A study done by the state auditor's office shows the average teacher pay in Arizona is around $48,000.

"I have colleagues leaving every day. They're going to New Mexico, taking their families to Utah. National board certified teachers that are the best in the country saying, they can't do it anymore here," Garcia said.

Studies showed teachers in our neighboring states are making on average $10-15,000 more than teachers in Arizona.

"The teacher flight is real. The crisis is real," Garcia added.

Teachers have been asking for a 20% increase in pay, which they said would bring them closer to what teachers in some other states are making, but the offer was quickly rejected by the Governor's Office, offering a 1% increase.

"One percent, in general, will get teachers about $300-400. It's a one time stipend, not a raise," Garcia said. "It's a further insult to the years of insult I have felt being a teacher for 13 years," she added.

The Governor's office has released this statement to ABC15 Arizona:

"Governor Ducey believes teachers are the biggest difference-makers out there. They do extraordinary work each day, and they should be valued and rewarded for their hard work. More needs to be done but Arizona has made progress. Average teacher pay in Arizona is $48,372. School districts have increased their investment in teacher salaries by 9% according to the Arizona School Boards Association since 2015. In 2017 we saw an increase of 4.3% in teacher average salaries from 2016 to 2017. Today we rank 43 among the states according to the National Education Association and are rising. K-12 education is the top spending category in our state budget. The governor's goal is to pass a budget in the next few weeks that continues to increase our investment in public education but we won’t stop there. We will continue each year to put more resources into K-12 education to better serve our teachers and students. He meets with teachers regularly and wants to continue a dialogue about increasing our investment in Arizona schools and teachers."

While there are no official plans to strike in Arizona at this time, Karvelis said teachers will not back down.

"One thing that has become a slogan here is I don't want to strike, but I will. That is a sentiment that is becoming an overwhelming sentiment among our teachers," Karvelis said.

Paula Watkins, a teacher at the Balsz School District said while no teacher wanted to walk out of the classroom to go on a strike, if they had to they would.  

"We are tired of complaining about the broken desks, or not having enough textbooks, or crowded classrooms," Watkins said.

Thousands of parents have also now joined in the grassroots movement to support teachers.

Beth Symek with the group Arizona Parents United said they were showing their support by painting "Red for Ed" on their cars, visiting local businesses to rally support, and wearing red to show support for teachers on Wednesday.

Many businesses all over the Valley are also joining in the effort by posting "Red for Ed" signs outside their businesses and giving discounts to teachers.

Sunsational Coffee in Surprise and Mother Bunch Brewing in Phoenix were among them.

"I would support a teacher strike, yes. Having a teacher strike while that may be a real challenge for our families, it might be a necessary evil in order to get the state legislature to do what is needed to finally get the teachers what they need," Symek said.

Paula Watkins, a reading specialist at Griffith Elementary School, organized a march to the Balsz District Office Tuesday evening. 

Watkins says there are more things planned including sending birthday cards to Gov. Doug Ducey with their message enclosed.

The hope is to get their message to Gov. Ducey and legislators loud and clear so there won't need to be a strike. But Watkins explains, even though it's a last resort, it's still an option. 

"Nobody wants to strike. We're doing all of this to try and get them to realize this needs to happen."

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