On the day after the Oklahoma Legislature finalized a revenue deal for teacher raises, plans for a widespread teacher walkout were persisting even as elected officials and civic leaders tried to quell the movement.
Tulsa Public Schools and Owasso Public Schools made it official Thursday afternoon that their schools will be closed Monday because their teachers are going to the Capitol.
If school closures will be necessary the following day, TPS leaders said they would announce the closure to the public no later than 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, in much the same way they do on snow days.
The Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association surveyed its membership and other staff Thursday and found that the 900-plus teachers who participated were overwhelmingly in favor of the walkout, according to the results provided to the Tulsa World late Thursday.
More than 80 percent were dissatisfied with the pay raise that had just become law. Ninety-one percent, including nonunion TPS staff members who took the survey, favored a multiday walkout if the district calls off school. When asked what they would do if the district didn’t call off school, 60 percent of union members still favored a multiday walkout. That number fell to 50 percent among nonunion employees.
“TCTA members are overwhelmingly enthusiastic about continuing to fight for funding for our schools. Our ask is still our ask,” TCTA President Patti Ferguson-Palmer said in an email to the Tulsa World.
Alberto Morejon, a Stillwater teacher who founded the 72,000-member Facebook group Oklahoma Teacher Walkout — The Time Is Now, said earlier in the day that teachers are not ungrateful for the raises lawmakers passed — they simply fell too far short of teachers’ demands for new money to improve the quality of education for students.
“It gives teachers something but doesn’t really do much for students. If we actually want to be able to buy textbooks and reduce class sizes, $50 million isn’t enough,” said Morejon.
“They had so many opportunities to pass a bill. They threw this bill together because they don’t want us to walk out. I think they want to mislead the public and convince people that they addressed the problem.”
Immediately after Wednesday evening’s Senate passage of the $447 million revenue package, state and local elected officials and civic leaders celebrated the news and called on teachers to change their protests planned for Monday into thank-yous.
Morejon said: “All you hear them saying on the news is ‘It’s historic, it’s awesome.’ Right now, they’re trying to repeal one of the taxes on the bill they just approved yesterday, and they don’t even know how they’re going to pay for it.”
He was referring to Thursday afternoon’s vote in the state House of Representatives to repeal a portion of the revenue package that would add a $5 lodging fee per room to hotels and motels to generate about $44 million for 2019. The state Senate is expected also to approve the repeal.
Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest accused both chambers of the Oklahoma Legislature of taking actions Thursday to “derail nearly $75 million in revenue necessary to fund House Bill 1010xx.”
“What yesterday looked like a positive step forward and a historic down payment on our children’s future now hangs in the balance as the Legislature dismantles the funding needed to solve this crisis they created in the first place,” Priest said. “Stunts like these are why Oklahomans lack any trust or confidence in the state Legislature.”
She added: “The goal of Oklahoma educators has always been to avoid a walkout, (but) because lawmakers continue breaking promises, even promises made less than 24 hours ago, we call on schools to remain closed on Monday so educators can send a clear message at the Capitol: Oklahoma educators won’t stand for these games any longer.”
Teachers’ discontent with the Oklahoma Legislature was clear Thursday night at Last Call Town Hall — a legislative forum hosted by the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association at Memorial High School. The event doubled as a walkout pep rally.
Multiple teachers who spoke with the Tulsa World said the raise that became law just hours before wasn’t enough.
Becky Dukes, an art teacher at Carnegie Elementary School, said the Legislature “is not understanding the situation fully. …
“Honestly, I feel this bill is just trying to appease us and make us look bad to the public eye,” said Dukes, “so if we walk out, we are just (seen as) being greedy and selfish.”
Dukes said she has thought about another profession but keeps coming to back to what she loves.
Large class sizes — the result of funding cuts — have affected her the most, she said. They’ve swelled to about 40.
“They’re not learning as much as they should be learning because I’m mostly putting out fires between kids in a class,” Dukes said.
Mary West, who teaches at East Central High School, said she’s quitting at the end of the year despite the pay raise.
Pay was a reason for leaving, but not the only one. She cited having 40 students in a classroom and the lack of supplies.
At an early afternoon news conference hosted by the Tulsa Regional Chamber, the chamber’s Chairman Steve Bradshaw said he would be disappointed if teachers go through with the walkout even after Wednesday’s Senate vote.
“I do think there’s been a tremendous amount of success that has been achieved. It’s been a difficult road. Certainly the teachers had reached the end of their patience, and I can understand and sympathize with that. That obviously helped the Legislature with all the action that was taken the past couple of days.
“That said, I think they’ve won a hard-fought victory. I think it sets a platform where there will be more improvement,” said Bradshaw, president and chief executive officer at BOK Financial.
Bradshaw said he is concerned about the potential impact of a teacher walkout on students.
“My attention now shifts to where it’s been all along — to the students. If teachers walk out, you have the opportunity to create hardship for the very students that they work so hard to serve every day, so I … hope they could find a way to express their position without doing that.”