Disappointment was the word of the day for Oklahoma teachers on Tuesday.
Shelley Zevnik Breece, a U.S. history teacher, got back to work at Union’s Eighth Grade Center after a fruitless day of lobbying for teacher pay raises at the state Capitol.
“There’s just a sense of deep disappointment,” Zevnik Breece said of teacher morale at her school. “It’s demoralizing — we’re kind of losing hope that something will be done. It’s very disappointing that there’s so many people in the Legislature that just don’t get it.”
A bill that could have raised revenue for $5,000 teacher pay raises fell far short on Monday afternoon of the three-fourths supermajority required for approval in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
Breece, who is in her 34th year of teaching, went to the Capitol because she is vice president of her district’s teacher bargaining unit. She said the loss of Oklahoma’s “best and brightest” early career teachers to higher-paying states is already having devastating effects on teachers and students.
“First and foremost, we care about the students and they’re the ones who will suffer,” she said. “I’m here, but our young teachers aren’t. They can go out of state and start their lives there.”
Listening to lawmakers oppose the revenue measure and proponents vowing that it was the last opportunity of the session felt like the proverbial nail in the coffin to Breece.
“To hear them say, ‘This is it, this is all we’re going to do,’ that really upset me. That’s not what I expect from real leaders,” Breece said. “Real leaders continue to work to find a compromise. The people of the state deserve that. Since they drew that line in the sand, I’m afraid they’re going to stick to it.”
Kelli Roberts, a language arts teacher at Tulsa’s East Central Junior High School, also made the trek to the Capitol.
Her take? Oklahoma legislators are all talk and no action.
“I’m disappointed with the vote,” said Roberts. “It’s been 10 years, and all we hear from legislators is ‘You teachers work hard and you deserve a raise.’ The problem? Nothing changes, and we go another year without a pay increase.”
Broken Arrow Superintendent Janet Dunlop called on the Broken Arrow community to thank the five out of six BA representatives who supported House Bill 1033xx.
“I continue to be disappointed by the failure of our state representatives to pass a bill that would give our teachers a raise,” Dunlop said in a written message to parents and patrons. “The proposed plan was not perfect but would have been a place to start. The fight is not over, and I have not given up hope that our legislators will eventually do the right thing for our students, our teachers and our state.”
Tulsa School Board President Suzanne Schreiber was at the Capitol for Monday’s failed vote. She said she rejects the notion that was the Legislature’s last-ditch effort.
“For the viability of our state, teachers must have a raise — that’s non-negotiable,” Schreiber said, “so if the Step Up package wasn’t one that could bring the votes to get that done, they need to go right back in there and find one that will. That’s their job, and everyone is desperate for them to get it done.”