In a press conference March 8, OEA's President Alicia Priest laid out teacher demands seeking $10,000 pay raises per teacher, $6,000 within the first year.
MIAMI – The line has been drawn by the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) and teachers are ready to cross that line if salary pay raise demands aren't met by April 1. Teachers supporting the proposal will walk out starting April 2 and many schools will shut down if Oklahoma legislators don't come up with an agreement with OEA.
In a press conference last Thursday, OEA's President Alicia Priest laid out teacher demands seeking $10,000 pay raises per teacher, $6,000 within the first year. April 2 was chosen as the deadline for approval of the education budget is April 1.
“They have incentive,” Priest said at the press conference. “Where there's a will there's a way, and we're going to give them a will to do that. We're all voters and we are all watching.”
Priest said the issue is not a partisan one, and state legislators should stay focused on education.
“This is about kids. This is about economic development,” she said. "Our goal is to fund education. Our goal is not to shut down schools.”
700,000 Oklahoma school students could be affected by the pending walkout.
The OEA teacher's union leadership moved up the potential walkout deadline date from April 23 to April 2 after receiving teacher push back.
OEA's teacher pay raise proposal seeks $6,000 in this year and an additional $2,000 in years two and three. The cost to fund the raises would be $366 million in the first fiscal year and $122 million in each of the next two years for a total of $610 million for the raises. OEA is also asking to give full-time school support staffers a $5,000 raise and provide an additional $200 million for public schools.
“We have to do the right thing for the children of Oklahoma," Priest said. “Schools will stay closed until we get what we are asking for.”
Miami Association of Classroom Teachers local President and Miami teacher, Kaci Hoffer said Miami continues to lose teachers out of state. Last year 31 teachers left Miami to work in other states. Hoffer says she’s received only support from other teachers and the local community regarding the pending walkout.
“Our ultimate goal is to stay in the classroom, but we have got to adequately fund education. Students are the future of our state, the future of our community,” Hoffer said.
Hoffer feels the potential walkout would benefit students as well as teachers by providing better educational opportunities in Oklahoma.
“We’re not walking out on our students, we’re walking out for our students. This is about them,” she said. “This is about making sure they have the teachers they deserve. We all want to do what’s best for our kids. ”
In Ottawa County reaction at the school board and administrative level has been geared toward teacher support and contingency preparedness plans should the walkout occur. Oklahoma law does allow teachers to participate in a walkout to advocate for increased funding in salaries.
“It was aggressive,” Miami Public Schools Superintendent Jeremy Hogan said immediately after the OEA press conference. “I really don't know if it's a ‘shoot for the moon’ and go on to settle for less, I really don’t know what their plan is. I think teachers deserve it, but it is a big ask.”
Hogan has been attending recent meetings in Oklahoma City with the Oklahoma State School Board Association (OSSBA), and other Ottawa County superintendents discussing the possibility of a teacher walkout, the effects, and ways to prepare.
“I’ve talked to our board members, they, and myself included, we would love to avoid this if possible but it seems pretty inevitable that it’s going to happen April 2, and it’s going to affect us here. When that happens we’re obviously going to support our teachers, support our staff. I don’t have all the answers on what we will do and will not do. There’re still a lot of unknowns,” he said.
Under legal advisement, at the Monday night, Mar. 12, regular Miami Public Schools Board meeting school board members addressed the issue and will be asked and are expected to vote to adopt the OSSBA resolution in support of teachers on the OEA walkout, and approve a resolution giving Hogan authority to cancel up to 10 days of school if necessary.
(See Friday’s edition of the Miami News-Record for more details on the MPS Board meeting.)
“We only had five days and six hours built in of bad weather days and I can cancel for a lot of reasons, but our attorney advised this is unique, by this action, if they vote to approve, it will allow me the authority to cancel school because of the lack of supervision of students jeopardizing student safety,” Hogan said.
The district would have to make up any time over the built-in weather days by state law.
“The law requires you to go 180 days, or 1,080 hours. We go by the hours and go more than 1,080 so we were able to bank five days and 6 hours that we wouldn’t have to make up, so anything over that we’ll have to come back and make up, and that’s for teachers and students. We missed three snow days, so what we have left is two full days and six hours of banked time,” Hogan said. “Now our support staff, because they’re hourly and under a different contract, they have to make up everything.”
Hogan said the district struggles now finding sufficient substitutes, forced to double up classes, pulling other staff and principals, so this is not an option during the proposed walkout. He is working with support staff to possibly make up or keep work hours during the walkout.
“On a voluntary basis support staff can report to work and have duties assigned, obviously not traditional duties because we won’t have all of our students, we’ll do some maintenance work, we’ll do some professional development and possibly some cleaning,” Hogan said. “They can also use their sick time, personal time if they have those days.”
The district is looking at how staff and teacher pay will be affected and are reviewing the issue.
“A teacher is on a contract and they are required to work the 1,080 and because they’re paid in 12 installments and accrue pay they get three checks at the end of the year, as long as they get the 1,080 they’re okay,” he said. “Non-certified staff participating in the walkout, whatever time that they missed, will be docked on their pay. Here’s where it gets a little tricky if it goes beyond that time.”
If the walkout occurs and continues for 10 days or less, the plan is to use the district’s scheduled upcoming Friday’s off at the end of the school year and extending the school day or the school year, to compensate for the lost instruction hours.
“Our goal is to put the least amount of burden on parents and our staff as we possibly can,” Hogan said.
If the walkout goes past 10 days the district will have to come back to the drawing board to make further plans.
Hogan met with MPS teachers and staff Friday after school to answer questions. Oklahoma State Representative Ben Loring (D-Miami) attended the meeting. Oklahoma Senator Micheal Bergstrom (R-Adair) was also invited but was not in attendance.
“One thing I can say is teachers have definitely let their voice be heard. One piece of advice I can give is you’re going to see a lot of positivity and a lot of negativity, you might want to take a break from Facebook,” Hogan said at that meeting.
The superintendent said by Mar. 30 for advance notification purposes a decision will be made on whether or not to close schools.
Hogan told the teachers, only 18 percent of Oklahoma teachers were registered to vote during the last election, and participation is key to this teacher and education advocacy movement.
“What I want to tell you is, if you want something changed, you better participate,” he said.
Supporters of the proposal should contact legislators across the state, according to Loring and Hogan.
Loring told the teachers he is following the issue closely, gave the teachers an update and answered legislative questions.
“There are some legislators, and I am embarrassed to say this, and their goal is to destroy public education, now, they’re not a majority,” Loring said in part. “…As long as oil and gas is paying the kinds of money that they’re paying to re-election campaigns, something’s got to be done to get the attention of the people who are at the Capitol…The problem I see with OEA’s proposal is there’s no proposed way to fund the plan.”
“It’s going to be a challenge,” Hogan said in an interview before the meeting. “It’s a revenue issue in Oklahoma, it really is. We all agree we want to avoid the walkout if possible, but it’s out of our control.”
Miami’s district has received the impact of state budget cuts for the past nine years. Hogan said although the walkout may be necessary to get legislative action, the hope is to avoid the walkout.
“We try to meet the kids needs, they don’t provide us with a school nurse anymore, we don’t have counselors hardly and school-based social workers, librarians, and other support services, and our class sizes are larger than they ever have been,” Hogan said. “It’s tough. It’s time to step up and support not just education but all of our services.”
Discussions are underway to work with local organizations and churches to help ensure students have a safe place to go, needs cared for, and they are fed if school is shut down, such as the Boys & Girls and Backpack food programs. Parents are asked to consider the walkout possibility and begin making contingency care plans.
Oklahoma teachers have not staged a walkout since 1990, so there are many concerns and questions.
“It does make us all a little weary because ultimately, and I support the teachers 100 percent, but it’s always tough when you put kids in the middle of adult arguments,” Hogan said.
There will be no extra-curricular activities during the walkout. (See MNR's Jim Ellis’ article in Sports regarding how the potential walkout would affect athletic activities.)
Hogan said he doesn’t know what will happen with required state testing, or SAT and ACT testing at this point. He is meeting with students at Miami High School this week to go over student concerns as well.
MHS Seniors’ graduation is another concern.
“If this thing drags out there are things we can do to ensure our kids graduate, we’ll do that,” Hogan said. “That's a local board issue.”
As things progress Miami parents will receive more information and updates from the school district, according to Hogan.
“There’s a lot of unknown I know parents want to know, but I also want to be correct when I put that information out, so it is a little bit of a waiting game. We ask for patience,” he said. “I’m hearing a lot of support for teachers in the community."
Hogan said supporting education is key to the success of Oklahoma.
“Our kids deserve a high-quality education and a high-quality teacher in their classroom. If we don’t start funding education, we’ll continue to see some of the same results.”
Melinda Stotts is the associate editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter @MelindaStotts1.