TUSD Alienating Teachers Over Proposed “Raises”

Only 3 Departments Will Receive What Governor Allocated

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TUSD Alienating Teachers Over Proposed “Raises”

Samantha Valdez, Opinion Editor

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Last April, 75,000 educators, all in red, all in solidarity, all across Arizona, walked out of schools, closing many districts across the state with a specific request: fully-funded schools, raises for all school employees, and a guarantee of raises for the future. The end result was more than $300 million in funding for teacher raises, and a pledge from Governor Ducey to raise educational salaries by 20 percent by 2020.  Except Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo is pushing his own agenda. TUSD received $15,095,903 from the state this year, but the talk is that he wants only certain teachers to receive raises.

Superintendent Trujillo is in charge of dividing the governor’s allocated money in the way that he sees will work best. However, many teachers across TUSD disagree with his plan. Unofficially, it has been mentioned that the superintendent plans to give a $3,000 dollar raise only to teachers in the Math, Science and Exceptional Education departments, as well as a $13,000 bonus to any certified teacher who will work at Booth-Fickett Middle School. The supposed justification is because they are considered “hard to fill spots”. I emailed the superintendent myself – twice – asking him the following questions: Is this true? How do you justify this money going to the Math, Science, and Exceptional Ed only? What will be told to the teachers that will not receive part of the money? How do you think this will affect teachers (positively and negatively)? And lastly, would you like to say anything else to be put in the article? To these questions I received no response.

Teachers in other subject areas have described this as making them feel “demoralized” and “unvalued.” Many teachers see this as, why would they want to work in a place where they are told they don’t matter as much as their peers?  Many have admitted to looking for jobs elsewhere. Another teacher quoted, “It’s hard to make a living as a teacher, and we put so much work in this; it’s disrespectful.” Ms. Krause said, “As the tide rises so do all the boats.  The teachers are the tide, and the students are the boats. If we all get a raise, all of us will rise as we should, together.”
She is definitely not alone.  Ms. Lange, English teacher, said, “Reading and writing skills are vital to our school label, which the district places great emphasis upon. I go home with stacks of papers to grade every day.  After sixteen years of teaching at Sahuaro, I’m going to be livid if certain co-workers get a raise and I don’t.  It’s horrible for our morale.”

Arizona teachers are  not ruling out a second Red for Ed walkout over school funding.  Ms. Krause wrote an open letter to Superintendent Trujillo and the Board Members.  If you would like to voice your opinion, please feel free to comment on this article or write the board yourself.  TUSD teachers cannot afford to stay silent.

An Open Letter to Dr. Trujillo and TUSD Board Members:
TUSD is planning on offering a $3,000 stipend to all math, science, and special education teachers regardless of length of service, skill level, or difficulty of work requirements. And there is also talk of giving certain teachers a $13,000 bonus if they will teach at Booth-Fickett. Those teachers will simply get more money than all other similarly-situated teachers just for being them. They will not have to work harder; they will not have to work better; they will not have to work more. They simply have to have a different teaching certificate.

The aphorism “A rising tide lifts all boats” could not be more appropriate as we consider TUSD’s push to economically favor only a select group of teachers. The decision to offer stipends to only math, science, and special education teachers simply for being teachers in those areas is demoralizing, fiscally irresponsible, and divisive.

TUSD’s main argument is that those positions are “hard-to-fill” so if we simply throw a stipend at the job, we will suddenly fill those positions like water in a Tucson wash after the monsoons. But evidence proves that like the water in the washes, the positive impact is temporary. In fact, although by some estimates this practice occurs in approximately 2/3 of large school districts to some degree, that differentiated pay has not solved the problem of the teacher shortage. In districts and states that offer additional pay, the teacher shortage remains acute.

These stipends do not draw people from other professions to education. Raytheon is not experiencing a brain drain because their engineers are flocking to TUSD. So what ultimately happens is that the teachers who are currently teaching in those “hard-to-fill” areas will continue to do so, but with an added bonus that is unavailable to all teachers. And of course, giving additional money to a select few makes it impossible to compensate the others. You are robbing Peter to pay Paul. I’d like to see Peter and Paul both be fairly compensated. I don’t begrudge my fellow teachers in those positions an increase in pay; I simply believe we are all worthy of equal treatment, regardless of the stamp on our certificate.

Of course, this is dispiriting to those of us who have been deemed not worthy. We are being devalued, demoralized, and disregarded. We are being told in a simple and direct way that we just aren’t worth it. The message is that we deserve less pay because we chose to teach English or history or Spanish or PE or elementary school or fine arts. The message is that we are dispensable. The message is that our contributions to education are not vital. TUSD already has a morale problem; this just makes it worse.

Another argument that TUSD makes is that “other districts are doing it.” That’s true. It has also been to no avail. And other districts are doing a lot of things that TUSD does not emulate. For example, a brand new teacher in the Phoenix Union district, a mere two hours north of us, will earn $46,500 in their first year of teaching. At TUSD that same teacher will earn $39,200, if you include 301 money. And a Phoenix teacher with 12 years of experience makes more than I do after 18 years at the same TUSD school. If TUSD wants to argue that “other districts are doing it” I’d like to see TUSD offer a competitive salary across the board.

Another argument I’ve heard to pay people differently based on the subject they teach is that schools should be “run like businesses.” If we do that, let’s do it across the board. Businesses don’t open locations in parts of town that are not financially lucrative (there’s a reason there’s no Lexus dealer south of Speedway). So shut down the schools that are old and costly to run. Businesses will dump customers if they don’t make money from them, so let’s get rid of the “expensive” students like those with special needs. Businesses don’t have to tolerate irate customers, so let’s get rid of the students who are chronic behavior problems. Businesses can simply up their prices when they want to make more money, so let’s do like Pharma Bro and charge the state 56 times what we are currently being paid for each student for whom we provide services. That’s what “business” does. Education is not “business” and it’s absurd to try to run them that way.

But complaining is not enough, we need solutions. So here are just some solutions to realign TUSD’s priorities and make competitive teacher salaries for all the main budget goal of TUSD:
(1.) The state of Arizona requires students to graduate with 23 credits. Most high schools in TUSD offer a seven-period day, giving students the opportunity to earn 28 credits, five more credits (and ten more classes) than needed, upon graduation. Change the bell schedule at all schools to a six-period day, which allows students to take up to 13 elective classes in addition to the required courses, reassign the teachers affected by the change in bell schedule, and use the added savings to raise wages across the board.
(2.) Many people who work at 1010 in administrative positions are former teachers, with valid teaching certificates. Require nearly all of them to have some teaching responsibilities. Realign their job descriptions so that part of what they do every day is, well, teach. Depending on the job, they could start their day teaching a class or two at one of TUSD’s schools.
(3.) Eliminate TUSD’s benchmark testing (and the associated costs) at all grades and rely on the integrity and professionalism of teachers to assess the students in their classrooms.
(4.) Administer the minimum amount of standard testing as required by state law. Don’t pay for extra testing that is not required.
(5.) The mentor teacher program could be eliminated and the responsibility for mentoring transferred to each site. Put the mentor teachers back in the classroom and pay a stipend to experienced teachers at the site to mentor new teachers, and do this for all disciplines as needed.
(6.) Get rid of 1010. The building. It’s prime U of A real estate and we have several schools with space enough to handle the offices for the staff that is housed there.

Those are just the starting points. With a budget as large as TUSD’s, I am confident that there is wasteful spending that could be reined in with a small investment in analyzing the expenditures. I am also confident that the teacher shortage could be largely addressed with a change in the discipline policy, a concerted effort to make the job more appealing by supporting teachers rather than routinely tearing them down at every turn, and building a community of colleagues that are equally valued rather than dividing people based on the stamp on their certificate.

In other words, let the tide rise and lift us all.

Shelley Krause, Sahuaro High School English Teacher


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