According to Arizona State Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas [R], the state loses about 40 percent of new teachers during their first two years of instruction.
As part of her “We Are Listening” town hall tour, Douglas spoke with school administrators, district governing board members and Verde Valley community members at West Sedona School Monday, Sept. 11.
She took questions for two hours, addressing concerns about school funding, teacher pay, instruction and legislative activities impacting education. Douglas tackled the issue of teacher pay numerous times. She said low salaries impact the state’s ability to attract and keep talented teachers, ultimately resulting in negative student outcomes on a variety of fronts.
According to analysis conducted by Education Week in August, Douglas herself is the nation’s lowest-paid state superintendent in the country. At $85,000, her annual salary is less than half the national average of $174,000.
“We need people in our classrooms,” Douglas said. “You can’t not have someone there.” Douglas spoke of the need for “dedicated money to teachers,” citing legislation that benefited teachers but did not guarantee good pay in the future.
Additionally, such funding still left the state near the bottom of both national teacher salaries and per-student spending. Proposition 301, Arizona Sales Tax for Education, passed with 53.5 percent of the vote in 2000, establishing an “increase of six-tenths of 1 percent in the rate of state transaction privilege tax, and an increase of six-tenths of 1 percent in the state use tax for 20 years.”
According to Douglas, the proposition was primarily billed by advocates as a means of increasing teacher pay, yet only “about 56 percent was for teachers,” with the rest of funds going to various other ends. Regardless, Douglas said teachers have grown to rely on the approximately $6,000per-year increase to salaries and voiced concern over the proposition being renewed in 2020.
“I can’t even begin to imagine what we’ll do if Prop 301 isn’t renewed,” Douglas said, adding that the proposition does not go far enough to right the pay gap. “The reality is, we need to look for new pays [to pay teachers].”
Sedona-Oak Creek School District Governing Board President Randy Hawley expressed frustration at his and other board members having their “hands tied,” unable to have as much impact on teacher or per-student pay.
“The kids are suffering because we can’t provide the opportunities other states do,” he said.
Sedona Red Rock Junior High School Principal Jay Litwicki expressed similar concerns, endorsing a per-student [Average Daily Membership] fund allocation structure: “That’s how you really build a district.”
“At some point, you say the pot is too small,” SOCSD Governing Board member Karen McLelland said, adding that in her view the state legislature does not want to increase the tax base available to schools. “We all have to live with that .... This is the money you have.”
This and many other questions, Douglas said, have a simple but frustrating answer: “I wish I had a magic wand.” Douglas acknowledged her powers only extend so far and that much is left up to voters. At the same time, she said she did not doubt the sincerity of any legislator at the capitol who said they wanted to help fund education. “The more you can keep the dialogue [with legislators] open, that helps,” Douglas said. “It doesn’t mean you have to agree.” Litwicki said that many of his teachers felt that their teaching degrees had been devalued due to recent changes to state law that allows principals to hire individuals with no teaching degrees as teachers. Arizona Senate Bill 1042, signed by Gov. Doug Ducey in May, made it possible for qualified professionals to become certified to teach.
“In my opinion we’ve gone in the wrong direction. The teachers shortage isn’t enough of a reason,” Douglas said, adding that lowering the bar for certification would not benefit students and could impact Arizona’s teachers from becoming certified in other states. According to Douglas, several other states have lowered certification criteria and others are considering it.