Arizona teachers still waiting for job statusBy Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX — Arizona’s 50,000 public school teachers are going to have to wait a little longer to find out if they have a job next school year.
Republican leaders introduced legislation Monday to scrap, at least temporarily, the law which says teachers who have been employed for less than three years are guaranteed continued employment if they are not notified otherwise by April 15. That same law has a May 15 deadline for those who have been with school districts at least three years.
HB 2630 would set the new deadline for both at June 15 for this year only.
The measure is set for a hearing today before the House Appropriations Committee, with the goal of getting the bill on the desk of Gov. Jan Brewer by the end of the week.
House Speaker Kirk Adams, R-Mesa, said there is some question whether there will be a new state budget by April 15. And central to that is how much money lawmakers will provide to public schools.
Legislators cut $133 million from current school funding in January to balance this year’s budget. And a list of options for next year prepared by the chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations committees show there may be perhaps another $800 million that would be cut this coming school year.
“What we didn’t want to have happen is school districts to make decisions based upon rumor and innuendo and not actually have a budget out there, to be laying off teachers without full knowledge of what’s happening,’’ Adams said. “It’s just to give them more time for the process.’’
But John Wright, president of the Arizona Education Association, said he doesn’t think much of the move.
“This simply delays tough decisions,’’ he said. But Wright said that, given an anticipated $3 billion state budget shortfall this coming year, those decisions will have to be made.
“As a practical matter, most people, most of our members working in schools, if they’re not going to have a job next year or if their salary has to be cut next year, they would rather know sooner than later so they can plan accordingly,’’ Wright said.
He also noted there is no certainty there will be a state budget by June 15 — just two weeks before the new fiscal year begins — as recent years have shown.
But Janice Palmer, lobbyist for the Arizona School Boards Association, said her group is “very supportive’’ of the legislation.
“It’s really to try to create less acrimony at the local level,’’ she said. “If we don’t know what our budget’s going to be from the Legislature by April 15, we have to send out notices to teachers that they’re not going to be renewed as a precaution,’’ Palmer said, though it may turn out that the districts actually do hire those people back.
Wright, however, said pushing the drop-dead date back to June 15 creates a situation of leaving teachers in limbo: They don’t know whether they should be out looking for work elsewhere, perhaps even making arrangements to move to another state.
“There’s nothing that would say that a teacher couldn’t go out and find other employment,’’ Palmer said of the delay in finding out if there is job waiting next year. She said what this legislation would do is ensure that school boards don’t have to tell specific teachers by April 15 that they don’t have a job “when, in fact, it very well might be that person might still (have a job) once we figure out the budget numbers.’’
Wright, however, is not convinced that contractual limbo is the way to go.
“It’s going to vary individual by individual,’’ he said. “But most people would rather get bad news and plan for it earlier, even if it means that news might improve over time.’’