Most local school districts have implemented the most recent state-mandated pay raise for teachers. Tulsa Public Schools is not one of them.
The state’s second-largest district continues to negotiate with its teachers union on how to incorporate the $1,200 salary increase into this year’s employment contracts.
Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association President Patti Ferguson-Palmer stressed the delay has nothing to do with the revelation last week that TPS needs to cut $20 million from its 2020-21 budget. Rather, it’s a matter of scheduling and taking extra time to iron out the details.
Seven TPS representatives and seven TCTA representatives began meeting July 25 to negotiate the salary increase featured in the state budget for fiscal year 2020. Ferguson-Palmer hoped to reach an agreement during the latest meeting on Friday but said it’s going to take a little longer.
“We’re just not quite there yet,” she said. “We’re really, really close.”
Representatives, many of whom are classroom teachers, have struggled to find time to meet because of the always hectic start to school, with Ferguson-Palmer calling it the worst time of the year to bargain. There was no meeting during the first week of school.
Ferguson-Palmer described negotiations as a complexity filled with analyses of scattered diagrams and spreadsheets detailing possible salary schedules. She said both sides want to be careful in their deliberations and added that TCTA’s motto is it’s better to be right than fast.
“There will be a raise, but we have to figure out the nuances and who gets what on what part of the pay scale,” she said. “It’s just a very complicated process that is even more complicated because of how big we are.”
Ferguson-Palmer believes the size of Tulsa Public Schools is part of why negotiations take longer here than at other districts. The Tulsa school board didn’t approve last year’s minimum $5,000 step increase for teachers until October.
Meanwhile, Broken Arrow Public Schools became the latest district to implement the new state-mandated raise during its board meeting Monday night. The district, which previously was one of the lowest-paying in the Tulsa area, approved a pay scale that increased a starting teacher’s salary by nearly $3,700 instead of the required $1,200.
Many suburban districts, including Jenks and Sapulpa, approved $1,200 salary increases in August. Others, such as Union and Owasso, approved them through June and July.
Early October is the earliest a new pay scale can be proposed to Tulsa school board members, Ferguson-Palmer said. First it must be ratified by teachers. The increases will be retroactive to the beginning of the school year.
Although it would be nice to see even larger raises, she said teachers should expect the amount secured in the state budget.
“We always try to get as much as possible,” Ferguson-Palmer said. “That’s kind of our job. But the main focus is delivering the $1,200 and teachers advancing on their steps. It’s just figuring out how to do that.”
A TPS spokeswoman declined to speak in-depth about the delay but released the following statement: “Nothing is more important to the future of our state than a strong public education system and that starts with having high quality teachers in every classroom.
“We are continuing to work collaboratively with the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association on negotiating teacher salaries and we look forward to jointly sharing more details soon.”
Comparison of teacher pay across Tulsa-area school districts
|District||2019-20 Pay raise||Starting base salary|