'We Need to See Answers:' Arizona Teachers to Announce Demands Next Week

Arizona teachers will present demands at the Capitol next Wednesday. They say what happens after that is up to the legislators.
Arizona teachers will present demands at the Capitol next Wednesday. They say what happens after that is up to the legislators. Arizona Educators United/Facebook; Ray Stern
First, they watched West Virginia's successful teacher strike. Next, they wore red in solidarity.

Now, Arizona teachers are organized and ready to present their demands to the Legislature on March 28.

The leaders of the grassroots teacher movement Arizona Educators United are keeping a lid on the details of their demands before Wednesday's rally at the State Capitol. But their main goals are securing a living wage and adequate school funding for Arizona teachers, lead organizer Noah Karvelis said Friday.

"It really comes down to funding, and a huge huge part of that for us is obviously teacher pay," Karvelis said. "That’s really where our focus is."

What teachers will do after presenting their demands depends on how the Legislature reacts.

"We’re going to give some time for the Legislature to respond, and hopefully we get some answers. And we need to see answers in response to these," Karvelis said.

Karvelis and the other teacher-organizers arrived at their demands after several weeks of nonstop discussion on the group's 36,000-strong Facebook page.

When Karvelis posted on the group on Thursday night to inform everyone that the leadership committee had decided to tell the legislature what they want, it immediately kicked off a new round of questions:

• Should they announce their demands privately within the group beforehand, so teachers get a sense of what they're asking for before dropping the list on lawmakers?
• Has everyone had a chance to give their input?
• On the other hand, is it counterproductive to debate the issue to death when the leadership committee can keep the momentum going by issuing a list of concrete demands?

Karvelis said the demands will go up for a "confirmation vote" among the group after Wednesday's announcement.

If teachers reject the ideas, they'll modify them, he said, and will keep modifying them until they come to an agreement. But he's confident that after weeks of vigorous debate and polls, teachers will be satisfied.

"I think they’re gonna really like what we’ll roll out," Karvelis said.

click to enlarge Noah Karvelis, a teacher at Tres Rios Service Academy, is a lead organizer of Arizona Educators United. - RAY STERN
Noah Karvelis, a teacher at Tres Rios Service Academy, is a lead organizer of Arizona Educators United.
Ray Stern
Other organizations that will join Arizona Educators United at the State Capitol rally include Save Our Schools Arizona and the Arizona State PTA. Save Our Schools is fighting a fall ballot measure, Proposition 305, which would expand a school voucher law.

"They’re our partners in the event, but the demands are coming solely from Arizona Educators United," Karvelis said.

Save Our Schools and the PTA will open the first part of the rally, and then the teachers from Arizona Educators United will segue into a list of demands.

On March 21, teachers in the Pendergast Elementary District near Glendale called in sick en masse, causing nine schools to cancel classes for the day. Only three of the district's 12 schools had enough teachers to remain open. Meanwhile, teachers wore red at the State Capitol in another show of force organized by the Arizona Education Association.

When adjusted for cost-of-living, Arizona elementary and high school teachers are the lowest and second-lowest paid in the entire country, according to the Morrison Institute at ASU. By the Institute's count, Arizona elementary school teachers earn a median annual salary that is just over $40,000; high school teachers earn a median salary of $46,000.

For the teachers inspired by the West Virginia strike, it has been a brutal but exciting couple of weeks.

Karvelis, a music teacher at Tres Rios Service Academy in the West Valley, said he and his fellow organizers have been pulling 14- to 16-hour days in the slow-rolling movement of Arizona educators demanding better pay.

"It’s really just invigorating to be a part of," Karvelis said.
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Joseph Flaherty is a staff writer at New Times. Originally from Wisconsin, he is a graduate of Middlebury College and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
Contact: Joseph Flaherty