MIAMI – After 10 school days, including one holiday, Miami teachers returned to their classrooms. One by one many school districts across the state still participating in the walkout are making the decision to go back to school following the two week Oklahoma Teacher Walkout.
Not all districts or teachers were ready to return feeling more could be accomplished by remaining on the walkout.
Superintendent Jeremy Hogan sent out a letter informing Miami Public School parents and community members that Miami's teachers and students would be returning to class Friday, April 13.
“Please do not take this as a sign that our educators have given up, as that is far from the truth,” Hogan wrote. “They have tirelessly advocated for a fully funded education that all our students deserve and will continue our work to ensure education remains a high priority in our state. We learned several important takeaways throughout this process: (a) we live in a great community that cares deeply for its school children, and we are so thankful for that; (b) our staff is amazing and holds deep convictions for making our kids' lives better; (c) our state legislature still has much work ahead of them to address funding issues in education.”
Hogan went on to write, “We want to assure the community that advocacy does not stop when school resumes and as educators 'walked out' to fight for kids they will gladly 'walk back in' to serve them and continue with the same intensity used in their pursuit to provide a better future for all kids under our care. We ask that the community stay engaged and help champion the message that we must invest in our kids!”
Miami Association of Classroom Teachers local President and Washington Elementary Pre-K teacher Kaci Hoffer has spent every day of the walkout at the Oklahoma State Capitol participating by picketing, and lobbying legislators in efforts to fund teacher raises and state education funding. She was tired and exhausted but remains determined late Thursday afternoon.
“We're not done fighting, but we need to be back in our classrooms for our kids. We were told there will be no more revenue-raising Bills heard this session,” Hoffer said. “We're not done fighting because we have primaries in June and elections in November and in February it's time to go raise some Caine down in Oklahoma City again.”
The walkout began when the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) called for a statewide teacher walkout if the Oklahoma Legislature could not reach an agreement for the request for teacher salary increases of $10,000, support staff raises of $5,000, and an additional $200 million for public schools education.
“Many have asked, what did we accomplish over the past two weeks? Well, quite simply in these past two weeks we have accomplished more for public education than in the last 28 years," Hogan said.
Hogan listed the financial impact for Miami Public Schools:Teacher pay raise - $6,100 average Support pay raise - $1,250 Flex Benefit Increase - to offset costs of FICA, Social Security, etc. Textbook monies - $100,000 for MPS Restored revenue that was cut this fiscal year - $50,000 for MPS Total new revenue predicted for MPS = $1,140,000
“Our staff looks forward to welcoming our students back and to finishing the school year strong! There will be a few adjustments made to the school calendar and the release times at all school sites,” Hogan said.
For Miami Public Schools students regular school hours will be in place for Friday, April 13. However, beginning Monday, April 16 an additional 25 minutes will be added to each school day. Also, school will now be in session on the following days: April 27, May 4, 11, 17, and 18.
Parents and guardians will receive specific information on updated start/release times from their student's school site(s) and MPS will post the updated school calendar on Tuesday afternoon, April 17.
Hoffer said the Oklahoma Teacher Walkout proved strong advocacy can be effective and by these efforts great gains were made for education in Oklahoma
“I got notification that there were 126 seats between the House and Senate that were up for election, all but one now have opponents, and before the walkout 75 percent were running unopposed,” Hoffer said. “We did more in two weeks then we did in 28 years. Of what we asked for, we got 95 percent of what we asked for in year one. But like I said, we're not done, education still needs to be fully funded.”
Although the entire goal of the Teacher Walkout was not met, Hoffer is pleased with what was accomplished during the walkout.
“We have taken a 28 percent cut since 2008 and that's across the state of Oklahoma and I don't believe that includes for inflation, so pretty big cuts. I'm glad they refunded us $50 million, but that's what they cut from us this year. It's a wash, we're not getting any new money or money to hire teachers, we're just not going to have to lay off teachers or cut that money somewhere,”she said. “Our kids deserve to have a fully funded education.”
Hoffer said her experiences at the Capitol, alongside her mother Vicki Lewis, a long time teacher and administrator with Miami and now Wyandotte Public Schools, and with other teachers were eyeopening lessons for all.
“It was powerful. It was movement, this is not a one time thing. This is going to continue. We've been fighting for our kids and they stopped listening to us so we had to do something” she said. “They backed us into a corner. And we came out swinging.”
The community outpouring of support was felt by the teachers daily throughout Ottawa County and Miami, according to Hoffer.
“The thing we saw the most was that we do have support. We might have a couple people upset that we came home but we had a meeting today with our educators and I said, ' If you know me you know I'm not done fighting, so we're not done,” Hoffer said. “We're standing out today at Paul Thomas Funeral Home Family Center out thanking our community.”
Wyandotte Public Schools
Wyandotte Public Schools will return to school on Monday, April 16.
Wyandotte Superintendent Troy Gray said, “Our teachers met this morning (Thursday, April 12) at 9 a.m. and have informed me they are prepared to resume classes Monday, April 16th. We will extend our day by 20 minutes and our last day of school is now May 18th. Classes will now begin at 8 a.m. and students will be released at 3:25 p.m. Parents should be prepared for buses to arrive 10 minutes early in the mornings and 10 minutes later in the evenings."
“This is not an easy decision for our teachers to return, as they know there is still much work that needs to be done by legislators. They need to continue step up and find new funding for our students. After visiting with legislators, their peers, and multiple parents it is obvious there is no clear cut answers or solutions currently. Our staff remains passionate for change, but also understands the difficulties this has placed on our students and families," Gray said.
As with many Oklahoma educators, Gray feels education advocacy needs to continue.
“Everyone should know that our teachers have not given up the fight. They have accomplished so much and will continue this fight in the future. Right now their hearts are aching for their students. That and that alone is why they are choosing to put this issue on hold. Our staff has vowed they will continue to hold legislators accountable, or vote to replace legislators that do not step up and fight for kids,” Gray said Thursday.
“Our school would like to thank our community. They have been phenomenal. Stood with our teachers every step of the way in this fight. Yes our teachers are heart broken and very disappointed. I reminded them of all the positives this morning. This was not a lost cause. This is a new beginning. The public’s eyes have been opened. Our community and teachers have bonded like never before and remain united,” Gray said. “Teacher pay has move to 2nd regionally just by the mere threat of walking out. Pay well deserved and much needed for their families. Salary schedules that allow us to recruit from neighboring states when needed and protect our teachers from crossing state lines. The cornerstone of our district, support staff, received raises because our community as one stood up. For the first time in four years increased textbook money was achieved. Those are victories! I am so proud of this staff and love their unity and passion. I can’t speak for other districts, but at “the Dotte” our teachers may be returning to their students Monday, but legislators, be warned the journey has just began. They will be back if long term change is achieve.”
Commerce Public Schools
Commerce Schools will return to school on Monday, April 16.
Commerce Superintendent Jim Haynes issued the following message late Thursday afternoon, "Commerce Public Schools will resume classes on Monday, April 16, 2018. We will be adding 10 minutes time at the elementary school and 15 minutes time at the middle school and high school to the school day in order for the school year to end on Friday, May 18, 2018. The addition of the time to the school day will allow the school year to end three (3) days earlier than otherwise would have been possible.
The school day at Alexander Elementary School will begin as previously scheduled at 8:10 a.m. The dismissal time will be 10 minutes later than previously scheduled. Bus riders will be dismissed at 3:27 p.m. and other students at 3:34 p.m.
The school day at Commerce Middle School and Commerce High school will start at 8:00 a.m., 5 minutes earlier than previously scheduled. Students will be dismissed at 3:35 p.m., 10 minutes later than previously scheduled.
The morning bus routes will be the same as previously scheduled. The evening bus routes will run 10 minutes later than previously scheduled.
We realize that extending the school year to make-up the lost school time may cause family hardships due to scheduled vacations etc. We will work with you to make up any work or test missed due to unavoidable absences. However, attendance is important to the operation of the school, therefore, we encourage students to be in attendance if at all possible. Please contact building principals with any questions you may have.
We appreciated your support and understanding during the past two weeks while supporters of public education advocated for additional public school funding."
Fairland, Afton Welch Public Schools
Public Schools returned to session on April 3 and Fairland Public Schools students and teachers returned to classes on Tuesday, April 10.
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.