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Glendale Teacher On Walkout: We Need To Take Drastic Measures To Be Heard

LAUREN GILGER:  But first most teachers from across Pendergast Elementary School District in Glendale called out sick today not because they're feeling ill but to stage what they call a "sick out" to protest low wages. A spokesperson for the district says the sick out has caused nine out of 12 schools to close for the day affecting about 7,000 students. Meanwhile some of the teachers are at the State Capitol, wearing red and holding signs that say things like "Highly qualified, pitifully paid." Joining us now is Sasha Smith, a second-grade teacher at Villa de Paz Elementary School in [Phoenix]. She is at the state Capitol. Sasha, good morning.

SASHA SMITH: Good morning, how are you today?

GILGER: Good, thank you. So tell us why you are there and why you think this sick out today was necessary.

SMITH: You know, unfortunately we're seeing a trend not just in our state but across the country of teachers needing to take drastic measures to have their voices heard. And I think this is what we felt we needed to do as educators so that we could let our legislators know that we need more than just a Band-Aid. We need more than just a simple fix. It's not just about raises. And I know that's what people will think. It's not just about that, we need to fund our schools properly.

GILGER: Was this inspired by the walkouts that happened earlier this month in West Virginia where teachers did result in getting a pretty significant pay raise there.

SMITH: You know I think that sort of started the momentum. I think that got us talking about you know, here is a state that is not as poorly funded as the state of Arizona is. If this is what they can do when they come together, make their voices heard, present a solid front, a united front then we need to do that as well.

GILGER: So tell us what's going on there at the state Capitol right now? How many how many teachers are with you?

SMITH: Wow, I wish I knew how many teachers there is quite a lot. We actually have two different unions represented down here. I'm sorry, three unions represented down here. It is totally a bipartisan effort; it is just educators standing in solidarity with other educators. We are letting our legislators know that we need proper funding. We need more than you are giving us.

GILGER: Yeah. And I know the the Arizona Education Association is also holding an event at the Capitol today where they will meet with some legislators. Do you think that this walkout in your district is getting legislators' attention getting the governor's attention?

SMITH: You know I hope that it is and it would be really unfortunate if it wasn't because you know this is the beginning. It has to start somewhere. This is that grass grassroots effort that started two weeks ago, which is you know, are silent protests that we're just going to wear red for. And then it escalated and it escalated a little bit more this week and then even next week there's event planned at the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon. So I'm hoping that we don't have to take it further for our students' sake, for our teacher’s sake. You know, we don't necessarily want to be out of the classroom and I know some people say well why are you there. Because we love our kids and we more for our kids. The funding needs to reflect the needs of our students and it does not do that. We cannot put students first if we're putting our educators last. We have classrooms across the state that do not have highly qualified, certified teachers who've gone to school to become educators. We have people who are substitute teachers and we love them and we're grateful for that because that's better than having nothing but they don't represent what education is. They don't represent the heart the hard work everything that the teachers put in to help our students day in and day out.

GILGER: Yeah, and real briefly Sasha, before we have to go here. How does this feel? Like it was a really long time coming? Like how much you had to go on for how long for you to do something this drastic?

SMITH: You know this is been a long time mean the state of Arizona has been on a pay raise since 2008. We have been giving Band-Aids one step at a time, one percent here. That amounts to $500. Another one percent here, that amount to $500. That's not really funding our schools the way that they need to be. That's not funding our teachers the way that they need to be and we know we need to take it back, take a step back come together united — Republicans, Democrats, whoever you are. Business leaders, community leaders, community members, parents need to come together and do what's best for our kids.

GILGER: All right we'll have to leave it there. Sasha Smith is a second grade teacher at Village Abaza elementary school. Sasha, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

SMITH: Thank you so much for having us.

Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.