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PTA group withdraws support from Ducey’s teacher pay hike plan

Beth Simek, president of the Arizona PTA, explains Monday that while a proposal by Gov. Doug Ducey for a 19 percent pay hike for teachers is not perfect, accepting it keeps the door open for future negotiations. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Beth Simek, president of the Arizona PTA, explains Monday that while a proposal by Gov. Doug Ducey for a 19 percent pay hike for teachers is not perfect, accepting it keeps the door open for future negotiations. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Calling the governor’s plan not sustainable, the Arizona PTA has withdrawn its backing for Gov. Doug Ducey’s teacher pay hike plan.

Beth Simek, the organization’s president, told Capitol Media Services this afternoon that her own research shows there is no way Ducey can finance both the pay raise and restoration of capital funding without cutting the budget for other needed programs. And Simek said she believes some of what the governor plans to slice could end up hurting the very children her organization is working to protect.

The change of heart comes just two days after Simek stood with the Arizona School Boards Association and other school groups to give their blessing to Ducey’s proposal.

Potentially more significant, one purpose of that press conference was to convince teachers to vote against a strike. And her new decision comes even as teachers are voting through today on whether to walk out.

And what is her message to teachers now?

“If they feel like they cannot afford in their personal financial household to walk out, then they should follow their heart,” Simek said. “If they feel they can afford this, or that it’s something they feel morally strongly about, then they should follow their heart and walk out.”

Simek said that she was not given all the relevant information about how Ducey plans to finance his plan when the governor first asked for support. So, what she did was strike out on her own and gather as much in specifics as she could from various other sources, including other state agencies.

Most crucial, she said, are the cuts being made elsewhere in the budget.

For example, Simek said, Ducey’s plan cuts $2.9 million that had been allocated for skilled nursing services in both the state Medicaid program and the Department of Economic Security. Also gone is $1.8 million aid for “critical access hospitals” and $4 million that the governor had proposed in additional dollars for the developmentally disabled.

“We can’t support that,” Simek said. “That hurts kids and it hurts families.”

The governor’s plan also cuts back $2 million in arts funding, which arts advocates say would decimate grants that fund programs that benefit pupils.

Gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato said nothing in the plan actually reduces existing funds. Instead, he said, this is simply Ducey deciding not to add money to these programs.

Simek, for her part, said she’s not convinced that deciding not to add those dollars – dollars that originally had been proposed as necessary – will not harm children.

More to the point, Simek said none of this was disclosed to her when she was asked to support Ducey’s plan.

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