In reaction to notification that teachers may not have jobs next school year, students at Ironwood Ridge High School rallied before class last week.
On Wednesday morning, following an Amphitheater School Board meeting the previous night where nearly 250 teachers were officially given their reduction-in-force notices, more than 100 students wore black clothing, tied pink ribbons around their wrists and stood up in support of Proposition 100, the May 18 1 percent sales tax ballot question.
Their rally, entitled "A Memorial to the Death of Public Education," was organized on Facebook by a couple of students at Ironwood Ridge through a group called Student Advocates for Education. After Ironwood Ridge administrators notified 45 teachers they would receive RIF notices, students were swift to come together in support of their teachers.
"We wanted to have an organized protest, one in which we promote fighting for education, and trying to tell the legislature that not funding education is no longer acceptable," said Ironwood Ridge senior Marissa Rhoades, one of the organizers. "So we formed this group and in two days we have over 400 members from people from Ironwood and CDO." Early this week, the Facebook group had nearly 900 members.
Rhoades said along with supporting their teachers and Proposition 100, SAFE is trying to get students registered to vote. Those under age 18 are being asked to spread the word of how the proposition affects them.
"I had a great education," Rhoades said. "I just hate to see that smaller kids who are still beginning, they won't have the same level, probably, of education because the legislature doesn't think that funding education is important."
Ironwood Ridge senior Lillian Malkin has begun making shirts that read "Pink Shirts for Pink Slips," that would fund campaigning around SaddleBrooke and Sun City where she said students believe more residents might be against the proposition.
"The thing that I say to everyone that is opposing this is, 'well, what are you going to do? If you aren't going to raise that tax, how are you going to save our teachers?' It's not an option to have 85 kids in a classroom. You can't take away 45 teachers' jobs, funding and sports," Malkin said.
"Do I think all 45 teachers are going to go? No. I think (the district administrators) are trying to make a statement. I don't like the way they are going about it. But, I understand why they are doing it. Because by doing this, you get students open who are going to fight for this."
High school students aren't the only ones troubled by the school budget situation. Amphitheater School Board President Jeff Grant does not like the way the Arizona Legislature has handled the state's budget.
"I really am concerned that there is a concerted effort on the part of our state legislature to really hurt public education," Grant said. "I think the funding shows … their emphasis on increasing the private schools tax credits. It is just wrong. They're taking public education in the wrong direction at the expense of what I think are on the part of several members of the legislature, of their private interests and their own personal interests. And they are not doing a service to this state and they certainly aren't doing a service to the Amphi community."
If Proposition 100 passes, a number of Amphi's RIF'd teachers would be asked to return next year. Fewer would be asked to return if voters do not pass Proposition 100.
The district currently has to eliminate about $7 million from its budget if Proposition 100 passes. If voters turn down the tax increase next month, the district will face an additional $6 million in cuts.
Amphi sets 'large scale' reductions
An announcement for large-scale teacher reductions came in a letter from the Amphitheater School District last week.
The letter followed a school board meeting at which the board approved reduction-in-force notices for 245 teachers, support staff and administrators. Some would lose their positions as early as May 21; others would be asked to return for the next school year. That number depends on whether Proposition 100 is passed of defeated by voters on May 18.
In order to reduce spending by $7 million in 2010-'11, the board also approved "increasing class sizes, reducing teaching, support, and administration positions, closing facilities, reducing pay by 2 percent for all remaining district employees, and requiring 3 uncompensated duty-free (furlough) days for certain staff."
The letter also mentioned other measures the district is looking into to save money, such as combining and reducing bus routes, increasing student interscholastic fees and eliminating or reducing various programs.
A release also stated that during the 2008-2009 fiscal year, the district had a loss of $4.333 million, followed by $5.47 million in additional cuts during the current academic year.
"Though Amphi has done everything it can in years past to keep the reductions out of the classroom, this year there is simply no where left to cut," the release said.
"The legislative budget reductions which occurred over the last several years have, to every extent possible, been implemented as far away from the classroom as possible. Those budget reductions were implemented predominantly in central and support functions and have greatly diminished the level of services available in the district," said Todd Jaeger, associate to the superintendent. "While every effort has been made to avoid negative impact to classrooms, programs and services available within the district, the multi-million dollar reductions now imposed make that effort impossible."
"I hope that you'll think, 'why would they do this if there was any other option?'" board member Patricia Clymer said to staff, students and residents. "If there were any other option, we wouldn't do this.
"We can't maintain our schools on this kind of funding," Clymer continued. "Ask your parents to look at what they are paying in personal income tax. They are paying a pittance. You've got to look at the source of this; our state cannot keep running this way. … our state is falling apart."