By Kathryn Wheeler
The Lopez Education Association, donned in matching red shirts that read “United We Educate,” attended the school board’s Feb. 15 meeting to call for the resignation of Superintendent Ed Murray after expressing concern over the direction he has proposed to take the district.
In November, amidst a looming budget crisis due to insufficient funding by the state, Murray proposed the adoption of a new model for Lopez schools, based on Arizona State University’s “Next Education Workforce” program. The program offers a model to reduce the number of teachers and bring in more support staff, putting teachers on teaching teams and reducing staff numbers and thereby, reducing costs.
According to ASU’s website, the model “develops and distributes resources to help teams, schools and districts build effective Next Education Workforce models…to increase the capabilities of individual educators, improve the effectiveness of teams and improve the performance of education systems.”
Superintendent Murray was elected in July of 2021 after tumultuous times for the district, including a lawsuit against the preceding superintendent and then two years of COVID, at which time the schools had an interim superintendent. Murray was hired by the school board into his current contract, which still has a year left, with the intention of bringing the schools out of the disruption of Covid and consequent budget troubles, he said in a recent interview with The Journal. He has pursued the ASU model, which he hopes to introduce in the 2023-2024 school year, as a way to “[try] to be responsive to concerns the staff is expressing.” “I recognize based on current financial circumstances, we need to pursue some sort of structural change to make things more cost-effective,” he said.
But according to the 90% of teachers who gave a vote of no confidence in Murray this past January, leading to their calls for his resignation, the model is not the right approach to fix the school’s budget problems and other issues, including overworked staff.
LEA union president, Becca Hamilton, in her 11th year of teaching at the Lopez Elementary School, believes Murray’s approach is all wrong. “[He] didn’t ask to collaborate on it, [and] didn’t present it as an option,” she said in an interview with The Journal, adding that there is “only one card in his deck.”
The problem must be solved collaboratively, she said. “[Teachers] have a lot of expertise in this school, we’ve seen a lot of models. I’m sure we could come up with a pretty good solution if we were given an opportunity.” She says Murray has dismissed teachers as a part of the solution process in an effort to push the model through.
Alongside her colleagues at Wednesday’s meeting, she expressed great concern over the lack of research that has been done around the effectiveness of such a model and the fact that Lopez would be piloting the program, having not been tried out in any other school.
The real implications of the model are still unclear, even to Murray, who has not yet attended ASU’s model-training program, which he hopes to do in May. According to Hamilton, this leaves teachers on edge, unsure of whether they could lose their jobs if teachers are reduced for a model that promises budget relief by having fewer teachers. This is only one of many issues LEA has had with the Superintendent, Hamilton said.
“It’s a pattern of not taking into consideration teachers and teacher input, and input from principles, it’s a pattern of miscommunication, [and] disrespect for teachers.” Hamilton cited the Superintendent’s powerpoint on Wednesday that highlighted teachers with the highest test scores. “That is so disrespectful,” she said, “that’s a communication to not be put out in public.”
The implications of the call for Murray’s resignation won’t be known until the school board comes back with comments from the meeting in the next few weeks.
Murray says that no conclusions have been made whether or not to adopt the model.
One thing that is agreed upon, between both Murray and Hamilton, however, is that the district is in financial trouble, and something needs to change.
“[The school is] the heart of the community. It’s really important to Lopez,” says Hamilton.