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Update: TUSD, Amphi & others call off Thurs. classes as Leg stalls school budget vote

Several Tucson-area school districts will remain closed Thursday, including TUSD and Amphi, as the Arizona Legislature stalled on voting on an education funding plan.#RedForEd organizers had called for classes to resume if the budget was approved.

Leaders of the statewide teacher walkout said Tuesday that they didn't get all they wanted in their campaign to pressure Gov. Doug Ducey and the Legislature, but said they had achieved enough in nearly a week of classroom closures to go back to work. But they conditioned their call for classes to restart on the final passage of a bill to boost the education budget in the state.

But several Tucson districts said that classes won't be held, as teachers indicated Wednesday they wouldn't be returning to classrooms as lawmakers had not yet scheduled a vote.

Remaining closed for a sixth day will be Tucson Unified School District, Marana Unified School District and Amphitheater Unified School District. Some area districts had been preparing to resume classes on Thursday, including Marana and Amphi. Officials at those districts said that classes won't resume until the walkout ends.

The TUSD Governing Board voted Tuesday night to approve calling off classes until teachers return following a final state budget vote.

Amphi had been ready to resume classes Thursday if the Legislature had approved the education budget.

"We were told the vote would occur today, but a few hours ago, it became clear that the vote was being delayed. As you receive this message, in fact, we do not know if the vote will occur anytime soon," Superintendent Todd Jaeger said in a message to parents Wednesday.

"Word of this delay spread like wildfire across our state and educators everywhere began announcing their intentions to remain out tomorrow," he said.

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"I want you to know that the vast majority of our staff had originally indicated they were returning to work tomorrow upon the assurances they received from the governor and others that the budget would be passed. But the promises made to them have still not yet been fulfilled," said Jaeger, who called the teacher walkouts "unprecedented in our state’s history."

"Please continue to support our educators. They need you still," he said.

Sunnyside district officials announced Monday that schools would be closed all week, pending a reopening announcement. Catalina Foothills schools will remain closed Thursday.

Flowing Wells officials said that schools in that district will resume classes on Thursday.

Officials at TUSD and other districts said that although classes have been called off, teachers are able to report for work if they do not wish to join the walkouts.

Sahuarita schools were open on a half-day schedule beginning Wednesday and running through the end of the week, officials said Tuesday. Tanque Verde schools also began operating on an early-release schedule Wednesday.

Earlier

Nearly all of Tucson's major school districts were closed Monday and Tuesday as teachers called off work yet again to protest Arizona's education budget. Districts were also closed last Thursday and Friday, as tens of thousands of teachers and supporters demonstrated across the state — including a march of about 50,000 at the State Capitol in Phoenix.

"It is not viable to keep our schools operating without adequate staffing," Sunnyside officials said Monday afternoon. "If this changes throughout the week, we will let employees know that they are able to return to work once schools reopen."

Tucson Unified School District — the largest district in the area — will serve breakfast and lunch to students during the walkouts, but classes will not be held, Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo said last week.

The decision to extend the classroom closure to Tuesday "was made based on the Arizona Educators United call for a continued walkout and reported teacher absences," TUSD officials said Monday.

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"We have so many employees who have reported their absence for tomorrow, that all schools in the Amphitheater district must remain closed on Tuesday," Superintendent Todd Jaeger said.

"Based on information we have today, the majority of our teachers have reported absences for Tuesday, May 1," Flowing Wells Superintendent David Baker said Monday afternoon.

Vail announced late Monday afternoon that classes will held held the next day. "Most regular teachers will be present. Instruction will occur," Superintendent Calvin Baker said.

TUSD's Warren Elementary School will "be on total shutdown," with employees not reporting for work if they wish, and no food service provided.

About 2,200 of TUSD's 3,200 teachers told the district last week they wouldn't be working on Thursday, with about 1,300 calling off work for Friday, Trujillo said Tuesday morning.

Thousands of teachers at Tucson schools joined in the walkout last week, which was approved by 78 percent of educators casting votes in a non-binding statewide referendum on the strike held last week by the Arizona Education Association. Teachers, like other public employees, are not allowed to strike under Arizona law, but a large number of educators are prepared to stay away from their jobs to press the Legislature to substantially increase education funding. Supporters say that the state has cut funds for schools by more than $1 billion over the past decade.

Rather than striking against their employers — the separately governed school districts — teachers are protesting to push the state Legislature to increase overall funding for education, including teacher pay. While each district sets its own budget, the state ultimately controls the purse strings for nearly all school spending in Arizona, which ranks at or near the bottom among all states in nearly every measure of education funding.

"While the governor has proposed a potential budget solution, the Legislature is required to hold three days of public hearings on any budget legislation, so we anticipate at least another day of closure through tomorrow," Amphi's Jaeger said Monday afternoon.

"At this point we are unable to secure the level of supervision necessary to ensure student and staff safety on Thursday," TUSD officials said last week. In TUSD, schools will be "open to employees who wish to work even though students will not be present." Employees of other districts, including Sunnyside, will also be allowed to work a planning day if they don't wish to join the walkouts.

The small Continental school district in Green Valley was back in session to begin the week, and gave its 28 teachers a three-percent raise on Monday, the Sahuarita Sun reported. Nine teachers were out Monday, official said.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

A demonstration by teachers stretched across intersections for nearly 12 miles across Tucson on Wednesday night, as educators prepared to walk out of classes to press for increases in state funding.