About 20 students from Howenstine High Magnet School had their civics lesson outside the classroom, without the benefit of a teacher Wednesday morning.
It was the issue of lack of teachers next year that brought them to the intersection of Congress Street and Granada Avenue, where they waved signs reading “Save our teachers” and urging motorists to honk in solidarity.
They were protesting the 600 pink slips Tucson Unified School District issued last week, mostly to teachers. The district board approved the notices Tuesday night.
The reduction in force was prompted by estimates of $20 million to $45 million in state cuts to TUSD for fiscal 2009-2010.
Students from other high schools had planned to attend, but some – at least from Tucson High Magnet – were stopped by school officials and ordered to return to class.
The ones who did make it to the downtown area hoped the horns, which were blaring every few seconds, would be heard in Gov. Jan Brewer’s Tucson Office, five floors above in the Arizona State Building at 400 W. Congress.
But there was only soft music to be heard up there.
After about three hours of the peaceful rally, four representatives of the group confidently marched up to the office to talk with Tim Bee, the former state Senate president who heads the office.
Bee told the students he was grateful to them for “sounding the alarm” about the lack of money available for education.
But he said the governor has been crisscrossing the state trying to drum up support for a 1-cent sales tax increase to raise money, part of which would go to education.
Aaron Paredes, a 17-year-old junior who helped organize the event, responded that people in Arizona “are not too good about increasing taxes.”
But Bee said there has been some indication that voters would be willing, under these dire circumstances.
Bee faulted state teachers union representatives for lobbying state legislators to vote against changing the date when teachers must be notified if they may not be rehired by school districts from April 15 to June 15.
“This (reduction in force by TUSD) wouldn’t have had to happen if the dates were changed,” he told the students. “And I think it is likely the impact will be much less” than the number of teachers who got pink slips.
Paredes said the Howenstine principal suggested they just write a letter to the governor, but he said he has gone that route before and thought, “We need to get our voices out there.”
Bee said handwritten letters, especially from students, do get attention from legislators, and he suggested the students do that, as well.
As for Wednesday’s absences, TUSD spokeswoman Chyrl Hill Lander said they would be excused, without repercussions, provided parents notified school officials their children would not be in class.