Hundreds of Arizona teachers, along with parents and students, marched outside of their schools on Wednesday in a "walk-in" demonstration before the first class bell rang.
The action could be one of the last before a statewide teacher walkout. Organizers fighting for better wages say that a strike is around the corner.
Teachers with the grassroots Arizona Educators United group encouraged school faculty to gather outside their buildings during the walk-in, engage with parents and community members, and educate them about the possibility of the upcoming walkout.
On Monday, the AEU organizers announced that they have decided on a walkout date, but so far they have kept their timeline for a strike under wraps.
Teachers across the state from Tucson to Gilbert to Chandler participated in the walk-in outside of the school buildings. AEU organizers are hoping to reach as many teachers as possible to get them to sign off on demands that include a 20 percent pay raise and restored school funding to match the millions of dollars that the Legislature cut from the education budget after the 2008 recession.
At Central High School, teachers lined the sidewalk and waved #RedForEd signs at rush-hour traffic while plenty of commuters honked in response. Across the street, employees of the Phoenix Union High School District posed for a photo op in red.
"We have a funding crisis in our state. We have a teacher crisis in our state," said 43-year-old Hernando Marceles, a counselor at Central High School. "We want to make that known to the public, and if we have to do that on the streets in front of our school, we will do that."
When Arizona teachers began to organize after the successful West Virginia teacher's strike, Marceles volunteered to serve as one of three liaisons between AEU and Central High, acting as a link between the #RedForEd leadership and his campus.
Arizona teachers are on the brink of a walkout because they're fed up with salaries that are nearly the lowest in the nation, by the calculations of the Morrison Institute at ASU.
In a video on the AEU Facebook page, one of the lead organizers broke the news that the date of a planned walkout will be announced sometime later this week or early next week.
"I'm not going to say what that date is," said Derek Harris, a teacher at Dietz K-8 School in Tucson. "I only want you to know that it is coming, and we kind of have to keep that under wraps, because once that cat's out of the bag, we can't put it back in.
He urged any teachers that know they will participate in the walkout to start planning. Harris told them to talk to their superintendent and parents in order to prepare for the possibility that schools will be closed in the very near future.
"What are the kids going to do that day? What are they going to eat?" Harris said. "Are the parents actually going to be able to take care of that, or are you going to need to have some other plan? Do you need to contact a daycare or a church that can house a lot of kids that day?"
"If you don't have that plan in place, you are not ready to do a walkout," Harris added.
Harris' warning was stern, and it speaks to the stakes of an upcoming walkout.
Although so far AEU has been astonishingly successful as a grassroots movement — the group held a huge rally to announce their demands at the Capitol just three weeks after the first day teachers wore #RedForEd — the mechanics of a statewide walkout will be their biggest test yet by far.
The planned walkout is a gamble and will take guts, but many teachers say that they've patiently waited for the state government to rescue them for too long. They're not ready to let the #RedForEd momentum die as the school year winds down.
According to Harris, the planned walkout will be "long-term," not just a one-day affair.
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Liaisons like Marceles are part of AEU's strategy for communicating with campuses, and they'll take on even more responsibilities if Arizona teachers walk out in the coming days. AEU has a Facebook group with over 43,000 members, but without these liaisons, organizers might not be able to reach teachers who are not on Facebook or Twitter.
When asked what teachers will do next, Marceles said that educators are waiting to see what the feeling is among Arizona teachers after today's walk-in.
"This is a statewide process that is taking place in front of the majority of the schools that are in Arizona," Marceles said. "We want to get those numbers and see what our next steps are going to be." He said that the teachers ultimately want to see political action and legislation to solve the education crisis in Arizona.
"If it takes more action, then we're willing to do that as well," Marceles said. Around 8 a.m., educators began to file inside the Central High buildings to start their school day.