Ducey doesn't back Douglas on teacher walkout reprimands

Gov. Doug Ducey. Capitol Media Services/Howard Fischer

Gov. Doug Ducey. Capitol Media Services/Howard Fischer

PHOENIX -- Gov. Doug Ducey is not interested in disciplining the tens of thousands of teachers who walked out of school during the six-day #RedForEd strike.

The governor told Capitol Media Services on Tuesday he thinks there's nothing to be accomplished by bringing up teachers on charges of unprofessional conduct and potentially suspending or taking away their certificates. Ducey said he's focused on moving forward and putting the divisive strike and controversy about wages in the rear-view mirror.

"Now is not the time to be punitive or look backwards,'' he said.

But state schools chief Diane Douglas, in a separate interview Tuesday, said she's not quite ready to let bygones be bygones.

"I don't ever want to see our parents or our children put through this again,'' she said.

Douglas conceded there would be practical problems in having that many separate disciplinary hearings. But she said it makes no sense to simply pretend the strike didn't happen and move on.

"If nobody's ever willing to take action, then I guess we just say striking's legal in Arizona, so, Legislature, pass a law that says public servants can strike,'' Douglas said.

The governor never supported the strike.

"We're supposed to be here for the kids, inside the classrooms,'' Ducey told Capitol Media Services in the middle of the March walkout. "We've got these parents that are working and are going to be in a real jam in terms of what they are going to do with their kids.''

But on Tuesday, close to two months after the strike ended, the governor said his focus now is on building working relationships with teachers on things like pay and other education issues, not creating divisions.

"I want to work with the teachers in the coming years,'' Ducey said. "I'm more focused on what's next than what's happened in the past.''

Douglas, by contrast, said someone needs to decide what are the repercussions for teachers who she believes violated the terms of their contracts by not being in school.

For the moment, that possibility is off the table. A planned discussion of the issue Monday by the state Board of Education was postponed indefinitely by President Lucas Narducci who said he and other panel members need more information or legal advice before they can have a "constructive discussion'' of the issue.

Narducci gave no indication when -- if at all -- the issue will be back on the agenda. And with Douglas powerless by herself to impose teacher discipline, any move in that direction requires the consent of a majority of the board.

Douglas, however, said ignoring what happened is not an option.

"Rumors are abounding they're planning to do it again in the fall,'' she said. And that, she said, means there needs to be legal clarification of what is and is not legal -- and what should be the penalty.

"We need clarification,'' she said.

"What does it mean when someone strikes and breaks the law?'' Douglas asked. "What does it mean when all our teachers walk out?''

And she said that there has to be a recognition of the damage that the walkout caused.

"We have children that may have been almost irreparably damaged,'' Douglas said, specifically mentioning young children and those in special education classes.

"You hear about kids crying because they just don't understand why the adults let them down,'' she said.

Ducey, for his part, said he is more interested in building alliances with the teachers and finding what common ground there is.

"I was supportive of the teachers through this movement in wanting them to get a 20 percent pay increase by 2020,'' the governor said.

"I want to see our teachers be rewarded,'' Ducey continued. "I want to see these dollars get to their paychecks.''

Even though Ducey pushed through a measure to hike teacher pay an average of 19 percent by 2020 -- he counts the 1 percent approved last year and part of this year's pay -- differences still remain.

Leaders of Arizona Educators United and the Arizona Education Association question whether there really are the dollars to support the more than $600 million price tag for the pay increases.

That's at least part of the reason some educators are working with the organizers of a ballot measure which proposes an income tax surcharge on individuals earning at least $250,000 a year, or $500,000 for couples. That levy is projected to raise $690 million in new dollars, all earmarked for education.

Ducey has taken no formal position on the ballot measure. But he made his views clear last month.

"I don't support tax increases,'' he said. "I think the government should find a way to live within its means.''

And the education groups said Ducey and lawmakers ignored their other demands, ranging from a guaranteed pay hike for non-classroom staffers to a vow not to propose future tax cuts until per-pupil funding reaches the national average.

Ducey, however, said he is focused on what's ahead versus what was not in the package.

"It's time to move forward,'' he said.

On Twitter: @azcapmedia

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