Strike Talks Gain Momentum Among Oklahoma Educators
TULSA, Oklahoma - Momentum is quickly building for teachers across Green Country to skip school and make a trip to Oklahoma City in the coming weeks.
They're demanding higher pay from the state legislature.
There are a lot of ideas about how to get state lawmakers' attention: a "strike," a "walkout," a "protest," or "suspension of schools." But teachers and school leaders say the message is the same: they want teachers to see a raise.
It's not clear if or when teachers would step out of the classroom but one thing that is clear, is how they feel.
"It's embarrassing how little money I make. It is embarrassing," said Edison Preparatory English Teacher Larry Cagle.
Many, like Cagle, are ready to take action.
"We want to make clear that a strike is going to happen. It's not a question. It's something we will do," said Cagle.
John Waldron, who is a member of the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association, agrees something needs to be done.
"A walkout, a strike, something is coming. It's definitely necessary," said Waldron.
A Facebook group called "Oklahoma Teacher Walkout - The Time Is Now" has about 50,000 members, including teachers from across the state. They’re sharing frustrations and ideas about what action to take.
Several ideas for missing class and heading to the Capitol in the coming weeks are being discussed but an official plan is not clear.
"We've got to unite as school systems. Teachers need to get behind superintendents, and superintendents need to get with the unions and we need to have a singular voice for the state,” Cagle said.
In a statement, Bartlesville Education Association President Heather Boyle said:
"The Bartlesville Education Association has been discussing the possibility of a school closure since September. At recent board meetings, the BEA has publicly called for a temporary closure of schools so that we may petition our legislature for adequate and sustainable funding. We are fortunate to have a superintendent and board of education who are standing up for our students and teachers. We stand together in calling for restoration of proper funding for our public schools. We will continue preparing for a potential shut down while remaining hopeful that our legislators will do their jobs so that we can avoid this action. -Heather Boyle, Bartlesville Education Association President"
"Well, I'm a history teacher. I don't know the future so well. But we are prepared," said Waldron.
A Bartlesville group called "PEAK", which stands for Public Education Advocates for Kids, is making preparations and said it wants to set an example for other districts.
It is reaching out to churches and youth organizations and even thinking about how students would eat breakfast and lunch if teachers are gone and classes are suspended.
In a statement, Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist said:
“We are having conversations with our Board of Education and the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association, and we are all in agreement that something drastic needs happen to change the conditions in which our teachers live and work. It is unacceptable that our educators continue to work second and third jobs to make ends meet without a pay raise in nearly a decade. We cannot ask our teachers to continue on like this. Oklahomans must demand that our state legislators act urgently to create a viable plan to restore funding to our public education system and to pay our teachers what they deserve as the professionals who are shaping the future leaders of our state.”
A Statement from Union Public Schools said:
“The possibility of a teacher work-stop is gaining momentum, as teacher pleas for a pay raise have been largely ignored. Teachers have been offered nothing but false hopes and a lack of meaningful action from our legislators. If teachers decide en masse they are not going to come to work, districts will have no choice but to call off school. Too many of our teachers are leaving our state for greener pastures, as teacher pay in Oklahoma is among the worst in our nation. We are already in a dire crisis, and to ignore this issue continues to put Oklahoma’s children and future at risk.”
A statement from Broken Arrow Public Schools said:
"Our Board of Education and our administration support our teachers’ right to walk out for higher pay because we share their frustration about the lack of action by state lawmakers.
This is a critical time for the future of public education in Oklahoma.
We are having an extremely difficult time finding enough qualified teachers for our students because politicians keep sending the message that their noble profession is not valued. Perhaps it is time for our teachers to send a message back to the politicians."