OKLAHOMA CITY — Thousands of Oklahoma teachers descended on the Oklahoma Capitol on Monday in the first day of what could be an extended teacher walkout.

Tulsa-area districts announcing they would shut down again Tuesday in support of the teacher walkout included Bartlesville, Bixby, Broken Arrow, Catoosa, Claremore, Coweta, Glenpool, Jenks, Okmulgee, Owasso, Sand Springs, Sapulpa, Skiatook and Wagoner. Oklahoma City Public Schools also are closed Tuesday.

By 9:15 a.m., a continuous line of teachers, three to four people wide, was circumnavigating the Oklahoma state Capitol protesting the state’s funding level for public schools.

Jennifer Ellis, a science teacher at Mannford High School, wore a Tyrannosaurus rex costume to the protest and carried a sign that read “Extinct: T. Rex, Endangered: Teachers.”

The 14-year-veteran teacher wasn’t missing school because her district has a previously scheduled professional development day Monday.

She and her colleagues are at odds with their district administrators over a possible work stoppage on Tuesday and beyond.

“I’m here for school funding. It doesn’t matter that we got a raise — if we don’t get more funding for schools, we’re just going to have to spend more money on supplies,” Ellis said.

National and state teachers union leaders began addressing teachers at a rally on the south steps of the Capitol at 10:30 a.m. 

"I don't see how we could do this just one day. I feel like they're choosing oil and gas over education," Norman Public Schools teacher Nancy Harrington said as she made signs in her minivan.

One Muldrow Public Schools teacher detailed the impact of education funding cuts.

Heather Moore, among the 90 or so Muldrow teachers marching Monday, said her district had more than 200 employees before the first cuts and now it has 170. Moore, a special education teacher, said the lack of funding means kids can't have fun anymore.

"When you enjoy, you learn more."

Jake Akin, a teacher at Collegiate Hall Charter School in Tulsa, said kids suffer from the lack of funding he's seen "on both sides" — charter and public.

He walked with Hannah Peters, a teacher at Mitchell Elementary, who noted the 60 percent turnover at Mitchell from low pay and lack of funding, which she described as "symptoms of a failed system."

It wasn't just teachers who surrounded the state house. Taryn Wade, who inspects food pantries for the Department of Human Services, took the whole week off to protest not seeing a raise for 12 years.

A pay raise would put her back to work she said. Wade was flanked by her son, Landon May, a seventh-grader at Yukon Public School.

"I'm here to fight for my mom and my teachers," May said.

After weeks of buildup, more than a hundred of school districts across the state were shut down as educators followed through on their promise to walkout of the classroom if their demands for higher pay for teachers and support personnel and increased common education funding weren't met.

The thousands of teachers protesting Monday came despite the Oklahoma Legislature passing a pay raise last week, which the Oklahoma Education Association called "a down payment."

Lyndsey Slaughter, a Bixby Public Schools teacher, said she's thankful for the pay raise, but "when you spend your own money on supplies, you don't have much left at the end of the month."

She said more funding would put her back in the classroom.

Ed Burns, a Wyandotte Public Schools substitute, said "its not really about the raise. There's no supplies. Our schools don't have the funding." Wyandotte is shut down until Thursday, he said.

OEA has three demands that it says would stop the teacher walkout: find the $50 million in revenue the Legislature repealed last week, pass a bill that allows "ball and dice" gambling, and pass additional revenue to fund education.

Joe Dorman, a former gubernatorial candidate who is now executive director of the Institute for Child Advocacy, had his organization registering teachers to vote on the fourth floor of the Capitol.

He said it is a commonly held belief in Oklahoma politics that only 1 in 6 teachers votes regularly.

“We started an initiative called ‘Chalk the Vote’ to send advocacy tips to teachers,” Dorman said. “Because of their work, it is harder for teachers to vote on the day of elections, so we are trying to get the word out so they understand their absentee and early voting options.”

Sam Madewell, a math teacher and baseball coach at Midwest City High School, said his long commute to work from Mustang every day makes it hard for him to make it to the polls. He guesses it has been several elections since he voted, so he was registering because he worries he has been dropped from the voter rolls.

Spotting a large paper cutter next to a host of hole punches on a table in a state Senate hallway, Tabitha McClanahan joked to her fellow pre-kindergarten teacher, Rebekah Anderson, “Can we take this?”

Anderson laughed and said, “Yeah, I’ll see if it will fit into my purse!”

The duo, who work at Holmes Park Elementary in Sapulpa, were looking for the office of their state senator, James Leewright, because he voted for the revenue package and teacher pay raises.

“We wanted to say ‘Wonderful, thank you,'” McClanahan said.

And why did that paper cutter look so appealing?

“Because ours cuts crooked!” McClanahan said, laughing.

Debra Wolfe, a librarian at Collinsville Upper Elementary, taught third grade for 20 years previously in her 37-year career in public education. She rallied at the Capitol for education funding in 1990, 2014 and 2015.

“It wasn’t but a few years after House Bill 1017 was passed that we saw class sizes returned to larger sizes,” Wolfe said. “We we’re here in 2014 and 2015 and it didn’t make a difference, not one. It was never really for the raises — we are here for school support and funding.”

This story is developing. Check tulsaworld.com for updates.

Follow @samhardiman and @AndreaEger for tweets from the Capitol.

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Samuel Hardiman 918-581-8466


Twitter: @samhardiman

Staff Writer

Andrea is a projects reporter, examining key education topics and other local issues. Since joining the Tulsa World in 1999, she has been a three-time winner of Oklahoma’s top award for investigative reporting by an individual. Phone: 918-581-8470

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