My Turn: Dismal state of education funding has left teachers with no other options
My name is Rhonda Gonzalez. I’ve been a teacher for the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District for 34 years.
I’ve taught 6th and 7th graders, Social Studies and Language Arts, Kindergarten, First Grade and Second Grade in my years here. I’ve taught at Oak Creek School, Cottonwood Middle School and at Dr. Daniel Bright during those years.
I have coached basketball, track, cross-country and cheerleading. My husband, Roman, and I were the coordinators for the Hands Across the Border Exchange Program for almost 10 years and took and brought more than 500 students and adults to and from Mexico in a cultural exchange program. My husband Roman is an aide for our student with special needs and has worked at CMS and DDB. He worked in the Tech Lab, Bridgeway, as a custodian, and in the kitchen.
I LOVE teaching and I LOVE my students. It is a rewarding job and the reward is in the interaction with my students each day. It’s in seeing them grow and learn and seeing them transform into a classroom community of readers and writers. It’s in seeing them around town as adults in this community everywhere I go, and in meeting them again as they bring their own children to me now as students.
I’m sure it’s confusing to some of you to see me out on the corners with a sign wearing red right now when you are used to seeing me in my classroom from 7:30 a.m. until after 5 p.m., most days. So I think I have some explaining to do!
I know some of you see teachers as greedy and spoiled, and I’ve seen those terms used in your letters to the editor. I want you to know that teachers are anything but that. Our funding has been cut over and over again until we simply cannot continue in this way.
I was a teacher 34 years ago and I can tell you that I have seen our school buildings, and classrooms deteriorate. The carpet in our classrooms is old and worn. I don’t remember the last time I was in a classroom that was painted during the summer. These things used to be done on a regular basis.
Our books, especially at the upper levels, have simply fallen apart after more than 20 years of use. Some of them in Social Studies were written before the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
We ask our parents for paper, pencils, sanitary wipes and tissues because every year we run out, and that’s after we purchase them ourselves also. We ask them for notebooks, erasers, composition books and glue sticks. I’ve always spent a lot of money on my classroom, but now I spend it on these types of supplies instead of new books and decorative items for my classroom. I have to decide if I want construction paper or glue sticks or if my pencil sharpener will make it one more year when spending the money the district is able to give me.
I do not blame our administration, our school board, or our community for underfunding us. They simply do not have the resources to help us any longer. Our school board tries to spend the money we have on raises, they put the money into the buildings that need it the most. They try to buy our supplies and their hands are tied because we have $2 billion less now than we had in 2009 for maintenance and operations.
Since 2009, a total of $4.56 billion has been cut from Public Education funding in Arizona. Our communities in the Verde Valley have unfailingly supported our bonds and overrides and for that reason our buildings aren’t as leaky and broken down as they are in other areas in the state, but they aren’t in wonderful shape either.
We have a teacher shortage in Arizona, too. We are more than 8,000 teachers short, statewide, to start the school year next year. Teachers are simply leaving the profession and leaving the state because they cannot afford to stay here and feed their families. They also take on other jobs during the school year to help and work all summer (only two months, if someone will hire you for that long.) Many have two other jobs during the school year.
Teachers are now fighting for real sustainable funding that doesn’t come out of the funding for the disabled, the veterans, the arts and doesn’t depend on an unseen better economy in the future somewhere. This is what our governor is proposing with no funding for our support staff of counselors, aides, bus drivers, secretaries, etc. It also won’t replace 20- to 30-year old books for our classrooms or fix a single leaky roof.
I know many think we should take the 20 percent and run but we aren’t leaving our students and support staff behind in this.
We are NOT walking out on our students. We are walking out FOR our students. I would rather be in my classroom but do not feel I have a choice. We have tried other options -- no one in state government is listening. Even on Thursday when we had 50,000-plus at the Capitol, the legislature went on recess until Monday.
So many of you do hear us, and to you I say thank you. Your honks and waves mean so much. Parents and children who have been marching and standing with us, you are the best. Please write to our legislators and to the governor. Something simply has to give.
Rhonda Gonzalez has been an educator in the Verde Valley for 34 years.