The idea of replicating the public school shutdowns seen across Oklahoma in 1990 is beginning to circulate.
The superintendent and some school board members in Bartlesville are responding to teacher interest in the idea by visiting with local parents and conducting an online survey to gauge the opinions of district leaders across the state.
“I’m not orchestrating it. All different groups — parents, teachers, etc. — have come forward to say this is something we need to consider,” said Chuck McCauley, Bartlesville superintendent. “It’s still very early, but this conversation needed to at least start happening now. If this gets legs, I really think it’s going to take the parents in addition to teacher groups for this to be a possibility.”
In 1990, it took a four-day, statewide teachers’ strike to force House Bill 1017 through the Legislature and then a vote of the people to sustain it. The measure raised taxes for increased teacher compensation in exchange for a series of policy changes, including class-size limitations, mandatory kindergarten, training for school board members and parent education programs.
Alison Clark is a Bartlesville school board member and founding member of Public Education Advocates for Kids, a year-old group of residents concerned about quality teacher retention and public education funding.
Clark said the idea of a 2018 walkout is something she has heard bandied about among teachers for months, but only as a last resort.
“Maybe we’re just naive, but we knew there would have to be some bill for everyone to get behind or some other mechanism. We wondered if support would mobilize behind the Step Up plan,” Clark said. “Everyone wants to believe that their elected officials will do right by them. We talk to our legislators regularly, but two of them won’t listen to any of it.”
In the wake of the collapse of the Step Up plan that included teacher pay raises on the floor of the House of Representatives, teachers are smarting and district leaders fear another round of teacher defections to higher-paying schools in surrounding states or higher-paying professions.
“We really are at a tipping point,” McCauley said. “In addition to the five teachers we lost to Kansas last year, we have 12 teachers who are emergency certified. We are hiring people we wouldn’t have even interviewed just a few years ago because there aren’t more qualified applicants. Bottom line, that’s impacting kids and it’s below the standard of what’s expected in our community.”
As a board member, Clark said angering parents by sanctioning a walkout or shutdown “is absolutely a concern, but my hope is I can help direct those angry parents toward their legislator. I don’t want anyone to be blindsided. That’s why we’re talking about this now.”
Clark said she doubts the notion would come as a shock to many public school parents in Oklahoma.
“I’ve already spoken to a lot of parents, and what’s sad is how many people aren’t surprised. The people who are paying attention know why it has come to this,” Clark said. “I don’t think this is the best idea ever. I hate that it has come to this. There’s so much we can’t do for teachers right now, but the one thing we can do as a board is support them. We have 400 teachers we’re trying to back up.”