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Update: Tucson school walkouts extending to Tuesday, most districts cancel classes

Tucson Unified and all other area schools will remain closed Tuesday, and Sunnyside schools will be closed all week, following classroom closures in local districts since last Thursday. Marana and Sahuarita districts also announced that classes are called off for Tuesday. Vail schools will be open. Catalina Foothills, Tanque Verde and Flowing Wells schools will also remain closed until further notice, as teachers press Arizona state officials to increase funding for education.

Nearly all of Tucson's major school districts were closed Monday 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.

"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.

Marana and Sahuarita officials also said Monday afternoon that those districts will not hold classes Tuesday. Marana will "remain closed until there is sufficient staff to reopen," officials said.

Sahuarita will hold an "all staff workday" on Tuesday, but not hold classes for students. Faculty, administrators and support staff will "evaluate each school and department’s contingency plan, including staffing and schedules, in order to create clarity and readiness to open school to students," Superintendent Manuel Valenzuela said.

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"Although I respect and understand the goals of this current walkout, it is our organizational responsibility, and my duty, to open and operate schools in service to our students and their families," Valenzuela said. Sahuarita intends to reopen schools for classes on Wednesday, and will make an announcement on Tuesday afternoon.

"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.

Catalina Foothills schools will be closed while the walkout lasts, officials said. That district will add days at the end of the school year to make up for lost classroom days, Superintendent Mary Kamerzell said.

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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.