The Arizona Education Association has filed a special action with the Arizona Supreme Court against Governor Jan Brewer and the Arizona State Legislature over policy changes approved in special session that impact teacher’s salaries, contracts and their involvement in professional association activities. AEA President John Wright talks about the lawsuit.
Ted Simons: The Arizona Education Association just filed a lawsuit against the governor and state lawmakers over changes made regarding educators. According to the AEA, the policy changes allow arbitrary reductions in salary, prohibit seniority as a criterion for reduction in force and eliminating deadlines for issuing contracts. Here now to discuss the lawsuit is John Wright, Head of the AEA. Good to see you again. Thanks for joining.
John Wright: Thank you. Nice to be here.
Ted Simons: They violated the constitution. How?
John Wright: They violated the constitution in the way that they adopted these new policies. Passed this particular legislation. The special session, the third special session of this past legislature, was called for specific purposes outlined by the governor as she's required to do in the constitution. Of the four purposes were basically these, to address the budget deficit, to potentially impose a temporary sales tax in order to help that, to look for ways to go for voter-protected funds to help the budget and one other area, state tax reform necessary for the future of the state. Within that context, they put the policies into law you just described without any relationship to an appropriation, to the budget, deficit or taxes.
Ted Simons: And yet the critics and lawmakers will say that dealing with 10-year contract renewals, these sorts of things, those things do involve the budget in that teachers are paid because of those activities.
John Wright: Not one of those features involves the state budget. There are always policies associated with budget bills. There has to be. When you're going to spend money, allocate money or appropriate money, there are policies that go along with the agency requirements for those funds and particular uses for those funds but none of the money in the budget as it was earmarked for education through the department of education goes to district-specific decisions such as those and these are a couple of the points you've made prohibitions so it's not even giving the district the latitude to determine what's best for their situation and their employees, prohibiting the use of seniority as criteria for teacher retention. This prohibits it. So it really takes away local control and takes away the authority of the district as an employer to work with their employees.
Ted Simons: Speaker Adams says this kind of thing is well established. It's nothing new.
John Wright: It's well established to have policies related to the use of the funds. These aren't policies related to budget cuts. These are policies that couldn't get passed during a regular session so they were inserted into a budget bill without debate, without committee hearing and without public discussion.
Ted Simons: Speaker Adams says in the grand scheme of things, a budget is a policy-setting document. Overall, it all comes down to how much money the state has, how much money was appropriated regardless of the channel.
John Wright: The budget is not a district policy document. The budget is a state policy document. The speaker is correct there. Under the auspices of the state, districts are political subdivisions. They have certain sets of rights, responsibilities and obligations, one of which is to set the terms of employment for the teachers and support professionals that they hire. I just don't think it's a good idea. It's not good policy. It's not good government. For the state legislature to get involved in these sorts employment regulations, it's not good government. The republican majority and legislature wants to be involved in employee to employer relationships.
Ted Simons: When lawmakers say they dealing with the budget because they're dealing with moneys that eventually flow down from the districts and from the districts eventually go to teacher activities and these sorts of things, you say?
John Wright: They're micro managing to determine how a district decides what sort of criteria they use it either layoff or recall teachers who have been laid off. When they decide that a district can't enter an arrangement contractural with an employee for association work, they're micro managing the district's responsibilities. They should step back and use leadership responsibility look and at the state budget. What families need.
Ted Simons: Do they micro manage in other areas and parts of the budget? Is this unique education? Does this micro management go all the time in other areas?
John Wright: I'm not nearly as familiar with other areas as I am with education, of course. I believe there's nor micro management in education and more of it happening now because education is such a large part of the budget. Frankly, I think there were numbers of the far right wing in the Republican Party that didn't appreciate active AEA lobbying by our members through the summer some the special session. There was a lot of anger down there. We want people to be literally looking over their shoulders when they do their work. We think that's an obligation.
Ted Simons: I heard this is the ideas and what's in the law is reflective of what national government is looking for with the Obama Administration wants in rates of the top education grants and these sorts things. How do you respond?
John Wright: I don't see that written into any of the language or intent. I've heard some say it'll be a national trend to have employment policies, hiring, tenure, seniority, dismissal, based performance. That's not in the law. It just says what a district can't do. If we need to have these discussions in Arizona, let's have them in the same way we're having them nationally. Let's have them in open forums, committee hearings, public debate, teacher input instead of inserting them into a budget bill, never having any discussion and then having it voted on in the middle of the night literally.
Ted Simons: I'm -- I can see some viewers right now saying, "time off for teachers for union activities." How's that a good thing?
John Wright: There are some districts that have made the determination that for some of our AEA local association leaders, having them fulfill local association responsibilities during their workday instead of one or two times or more during the day when they would otherwise be teaching is actually of assistance to the district they help out with human relations it. It helps out with potential grievances that could be solved at a lower level before it escalates it helps with personal relationships and personnel relationships between the employees and the district. The districts made that determination. I don't think it's up to the legislature to say, no, we think that's bad employment practices. Let the district decide.
Ted Simons: Last question, you've not asked for a restraining order. You want the change and you want it now. Talk to me why.
John Wright: Well, our attorneys have said that the best way for us to proceed is to file this special action. By its very nature, a special action has some urgency to it. And the supreme court has a good history of responding fairly quickly in terms of we will hear it or won't hear it. We think it'll be a pretty quick response for them to say yes, we think this is important to make a decision on and we'll hear it or no you need to go to the lower courts.
Ted Simons: Thank you, John, for joining us. We appreciate it.
John Wright: I appreciate it.
John Wright:Head of the AEA;