In April, teachers in the Verde Valley joined with fellow educators all across Arizona in the largest sustained teachers strike in the history of the state.
Tens of thousands of teachers rallied to the Arizona State Capitol, ending after the Arizona State Legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey signed a budget that provided for steady pay increases for teachers over the next several years.
The first and largest of those pay increases went into effect this school year.
Teachers of Mingus Union High School District saw an average pay increase of $4,249, over 10 percent.
Teachers at in the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District saw an average increase of $4,037, an increase of 9.5 percent.
Camp Verde Unified School District teachers saw a lower average increase at $3,214, 7.5 percent, due to an attempt by CVUSD administration to spread the windfall to teachers paid through grants that did not have allocated funds from the state legislature.
For teachers who fought and protested for those raises, they said the extra money means a lot.
“For me personally, the increase in my pay is going to make a huge difference for my family,” said Jason Teague, an art teacher at MUHS who helped lead Mingus teachers in the protests. “With that extra money, we can afford get my wife and my two kids on the school insurance. It’s a really big deal.”
“I’ve talked to a couple of other teachers and they’re planning on doing that exact same thing, taking that windfall and just being able to buy health coverage,” Teague said. He also referred to other teachers at Mingus who used their raises to trade in old cars for new ones.
Beyond the money itself, the success of the teacher protests have affected teacher attitudes.
“The sense I get from them is it’s a huge morale boost,” Cottonwood Community School Principal Matt Schumacher said. “They’ve been working hard and grinding along for so long. They really have. They’ve been putting themselves out there, and this was finally the sense of a little pat on the back, and financial or otherwise, they need that support. So it’s great for them to see that their investment in these kids is not forgotten.”
Schumacher said most teachers do not get involved in the profession for the money, but said it has led to a sense of being recognized for their good work, and further fervor in their occupation.
“I can tell you that the teachers are pleased and thankful with the raises,” said Brenda Lewis, a COCSD teacher who led the protests of educators in that district. “We are doing what we’ve always done, always thinking of our students first.”
“I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s not enough, even if we get to 20 [percent increase] by 2020,” said Danny Howe, Camp Verde Middle School principal and CVUSD administratorin-charge. “But morale’s going to be up because the movement got them the money. Teachers feel good that they’re getting something.”
“I hope it’s a positive effect,” Camp Verde High School Principal Mark Showers said. “The constant struggle with funding in Arizona is always going to be a challenge. We do an excellent job with a little amount of money. That’s always one of these challenges that we face.”
“It shows that the teachers are supported,” MUHSD Superintendent Penny Hargrove said. “They’ve been beat down for many years by cuts to education. They finally are validated that their jobs are important, that their pay is important.”
For Teague, seeing success from the movement he helped fight for is still a surprise.
“When all of this started, I felt like as teachers we were playing a game of chicken with the statehouse and I felt we were going to lose,” Teague said, speaking of the rhetoric teachers were hearing from state leaders heading into the walkout. “I thought we were going to make a point, but I didn’t expect this. So in that instance, I would say it was totally a victory, absolutely. To see the teachers and to see the voices of the communities all over Arizona stand up in favor of education, on some levels we were definitely heard.”
For more information or assistance, contact Governor Ducey's press office: (602) 542-1342.