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Legislators flunking out

My Tucson



“We’re looking for a leader, someone walks among us and I hope he hears the call.”

- Neil Young

It’s as mysterious as Rio Nuevo and as elusive as a chupacabra. A responsible and fair state budget is nowhere to be seen, and there seems to be no leadership to get one done.

The conservatives who control our Legislature have taken a position of delay and political cowardice, knowing their budget will not be kind to public education or to poor families.

If you think the $140-per-year rental tax will hurt working-class Tucsonans, then wait till families lose full-day kindergarten.

Lawmakers’ inaction has forced governing boards and superintendents to do the right thing and plan for a shortfall.

How could they not? They are responsible to the taxpayers in their school districts, and they must do what’s right by their employees as stated in law.

They do not have the luxury of stalling to prevent political opposition.

The governing boards have faltered in their responsibility to their teachers in one major area, however.

They attempted to get legislation passed to extend the deadline to issue nonrenewal notices to June 15 instead of April 15 for new teachers. This earlier deadline was put in place to prevent inaction by governing boards – the kind now displayed by the Legislature.

The failure to move that deadline was a small victory for teachers. Many are now without jobs or waiting to be placed in other schools because there is no workable budget in place.

A little known clause gives three years’ recall rights to teachers who are let go due to the economy. That means a district cannot hire someone else for three years until they rehire those let go first if qualified for the jobs advertised – even if they get a job in another school district.

This is another provision in law that might be attacked by conservatives and governing boards.

But there would be fewer suspicious mass layoffs in the private sector, in the name of maintaining high profits, if this clause were in place for them.

Many of my colleagues have asked about the burden school administrators are carrying throughout all of this or, rather, the lack of it.

It’s a tricky question. Bad administrators are an easy target. Some of the grief they are receiving may not be fair. Then again, much of it is.

When districts say their administration has been cut, they are not talking about vice principals, principals or associate superintendents. They are talking about other budget items under “administration.”

Teachers know this. It’s time the public did, too.

If, by a long shot, a principal is let go, then he has immediate recall rights as a continuing teacher unless he gave up those rights in writing, which is highly unlikely.

They have more job security than teachers in good times and bad.

I applaud the decision by Vicki Balentine, superintendent of Amphitheater Public Schools, to take a five-day furlough without pay next year. It was an example of good leadership – the kind we have become accustomed to with her.

I also had the pleasure of exchanging e-mails recently with Elizabeth Celania-Fagen, superintendent of Tucson Unified School District. She is impressive and reachable.

The issue of the importance of administrators over teachers is always a topic superintendents like to stay away from.

The educational pay system tells us a person making as much as four times more than someone else signifies a degree of higher importance – though we all know classroom teachers work much harder.

Let’s face it: A teacher attempting to teach 25 to 30 6-year-olds how to read and write is a more difficult job day in and day out, but you will hardly find an administrator who would agree.

That’s why my exchange with Fagen was refreshing. She spelled out to me that teachers are of higher importance and severely underpaid. She became an administrator because she was frustrated with bad leadership.

But even though teachers are important, she added, leadership matters, too. And it does.

I only wish our legislators heard her call.

Andy Morales was born in Tucson, received a master’s degree in special education from the University of Arizona and has been teaching in Amphitheater for 20 years. E-mail: amoralesmytucson@yahoo.com

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