Photo by Howard Fischer, for the Miner.
PHOENIX – Hoping to head off a walkout, Gov. Doug Ducey unveiled a plan Thursday he said will provide teachers the 20 percent pay hike they are demanding -- by the 2020-2021 school year.
The governor said he believes there are enough new tax dollars coming in the state through economic development and simple population growth to immediately bump the average teacher salary in Arizona to $52,725 by the new school year. That compares with $48,372 according to the Auditor General’s Office.
And by the fall of 2020, the figure would hit $58,130.
That infusion of $684 million new dollars, on top of other state aid to schools, would still leave teacher pay in Arizona below the current national average. But it would mean that Arizona would no longer be at or near the bottom, where it is now.
The plan already has the endorsement of several education groups. But Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, said he is approaching the proposal with a certain skepticism.
Thomas said even if Ducey can deliver on the immediate hike, there is no guarantee that the money will be there in future years. He said the only way to assure that is to put a tax hike proposal on the ballot, something the governor has refused to do – and considers unnecessary.
And Thomas, whose organization already is backing Democrat David Garcia to replace Ducey in November, also said he lacks trust that the governor will do what he promised.
“Remember, this is the same governor that offered 2 percent over five years,’’ Thomas said, referring to Ducey’s original pay hike plan he trotted out a year ago.
What is clear is that the governor has sharply changed his position. And it is occurring as tens of thousands of teachers staged “walk-ins’’ at more than half of the state’s public schools as a show of support for that 20 percent demand – and that, like counterparts in West Virginia and Oklahoma, they would consider a strike.
At the hastily called press conference Thursday, Ducey said he has been working on the teacher pay issue “for some time.’’
“But I have been paying attention to what’s going on out across the state,’’ the governor said. “I’ve been listening and I’ve been impressed.’’
House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, said she believes Ducey acted because he had effectively been backed into a corner.
“It’s amazing what a threatened teacher strike in an election year can do,’’ she said.
The governor’s plan comes on the heels of House Speaker J.D. Mesnard crafting his own proposal for a 20 percent pay hike for teachers.
But Mesnard’s plan does not get teachers there until the 2022-2023 school year.
Potentially more significant, he funds it not with using new money but largely by diverting funds that schools are counting on for other needs, such as computers, books and even school buses.
That, according to school officials, is a non-starter.
“The Legislature’s plan is terrible,’’ said Chuck Essigs, lobbyist for the Association of Arizona School Business Officials. In fact, he pointed out that various education groups are now in court suing over the failure of the state to provide those funds.
Ducey did not mention Mesnard’s proposal, at least not directly. But he pointed up the difference between his plan that uses new money and other savings from the speaker’s proposal to move around school dollars.
“There will be no shell game,’’ the governor said.
Mesnard, who was at Ducey’s press conference, was noncommittal in his response.
“Obviously I look forward to working with the governor,’’ the speaker said, saying he needs more details of exactly where Ducey intends to get the money. But Mesnard agreed with the governor that the current plan – a 1 percent raise for the current year – was not going to cut it.
“We all share the same priority,’’ he said.
“We want to get more money into the classroom, more money into teacher pay,’’ Mesnard continued. “And it’s always been how we go about achieving that.’’
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