The Legislature has had it out for the Tucson Unified School District for a long time.
Dating back to the Mexican American Studies imbroglio in 2010 and even further, the GOP majority has often viewed the district as a hotbed of radicalism and incompetence. At times, they’ve been right about the incompetence, but the radicalism was always overstated.
The question for the district now is, is it worth angering the powers-that-be even more to ensure that janitors, librarians, drivers and nurses get decent raises?
Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo took a solid step in that direction last week when he told my colleague Hank Stephenson that he would recommend that the additional money the Legislature approved specifically for teachers’ salaries instead be spread among all “educators.” He noted that was one of the reasons teachers walked out in the first place — that raises for other school employees were not included in Gov. Doug Ducey’s proposal.
“I see us supporting the educators as defined by this movement, those that are touching the lives of kids and working directly with kids,” Trujillo said. “It’s about the monitors, it’s about teachers, it’s about the counselors, it’s about the custodians, it’s about the secretaries at our schools, it’s about the office assistants.”
The news that the proposed 20 percent raises by 2020, 9 percent this year, might not be approved by TUSD as the governor and Legislature wanted did not sit well with some in the Capitol. Ducey said he was unhappy with it when he visited Tucson on Thursday.
“That’s disappointing, if that that’s how he sees it, because these raises were passed for our teachers,” Ducey said to reporters. “There’s also additional dollars for support staff in that budget. TUSD is going to see over $21 million in new dollars in this education cycle. Those dollars need to get to our teachers and there’s dollars in the additional assistance through the inflation and other clauses that can get to support staff. But teachers should be expecting a bump and the superintendent should be delivering on that bump.”
Trujillo disputes that TUSD will be receiving that much money. He said it will more likely be about $14 million in total new money.
In any case, the possibility that TUSD’s money for teachers’ raises won’t go just to them matters in a couple of ways.
One is that Ducey sold the proposal and promised it to the public as a pay raise for teachers, so if it doesn’t materialize that way, some people might blame him. The other is that it was the Legislature’s formally stated intent that the money be used for teacher raises, although ultimately the decision was left up to the districts.
Appearing Friday on the Bill Buckmaster Show on KVOI, Trujillo backpedaled somewhat.
“It’s not that we’re not going to give a 9 percent raise. It’s a question of if we can guarantee it,” he said, noting that the district board will be the ultimate decision-makers.
But it isn’t just TUSD struggling with the decision. The Vail School District is having trouble defining what a teacher is for purposes of salary increases. Vail’s definition of a teacher is broader than the Legislature’s definition was, Superintendent Calvin Baker told me. So the district is quickly hashing out what to propose before the Tuesday board meeting.
There are three pots of new money to draw from, Baker noted: district additional assistance, inflation funding and money for teacher raises.
“I expect the board will decide to spend some of the inflation money and district additional assistance on employees’ salaries,” he said.
In the Sunnyside district, spokesman Victor Mercado told me, “We plan on honoring the spirit of law.”
The spirit, of course, was to give teachers raises. But, it turns out, teachers are not all that doctrinaire about receiving all the money meant for them, judging at least from those I spoke with at TUSD on Friday. And there are ongoing discussions among administrators and employees to hash out who might get a cut and how much.
Marea Jenness, a biology teacher at Tucson High who was deeply involved in the #RedForEd movement, told me, “I’m totally for splitting the money.”
Teachers at Tucson High recently raised $800 to buy gift cards for the support staff who will receive smaller-than-usual checks this pay period as a result of the teacher walkout, she told me.
I asked her if she was worried about the Legislature’s intent, which was to pay people like her, not office staff and bus drivers. She told me she and many other teachers learned a lot by watching the Legislature in action this session.
“I don’t really care what their intent was, because their whole performance was so poor that they don’t really deserve our concern,” she said.
Linda Escalante Santa Cruz, a Cholla High School social studies teacher, said of the pay increase, “I won’t be benefiting from it, because I’ll be retiring.”
But she added that she wants the pay increases to be spread around, and she’s not the only one who thinks that way.
“Most of the teachers I spoke to, they think the same thing,” she said.
Honestly, the relationship with the Legislature may be shot anyway, at least for TUSD.
It might as well spread the new money around in a deliberate and fair way, making sure the teachers get the bulk of it.