Talk of a teacher walkout has school districts in Rogers County making contingency plans.
The March Foyil Public School Board agenda includes a discussion nearly every district in the state is having right now as talks of a teacher strike gain momentum.
"Discussion and vote to authorize the superintendent of schools to close all district schools for up to 10 days, provided that such days must be made up if required by law, with such closure to occur only if a teacher walkout is scheduled by teacher groups or organizations and if the superintendent determines that such school closures are necessary for the safety of students and for the fiscal integrity of the district in order to avoid the necessity of hiring substitute teachers."
This is how the discussion item will be presented to members of the Foyil School Board this.
Inola Superintendent, Dr. Kent Holbrook, said he intentionally left the word "walkout" out of their agenda, but added that his school board has already held one meeting to discuss the issue. With the date of the proposed walkout being changed, though, they will likely have to call a special meeting to take action on a plan.
"Our school board supports our teachers and understand why they're doing what they're doing. But there are concerns for the kids," Holbrook said. "Our seniors are especially concerning. What if the strike goes two weeks? We have graduation, then many leave immediately for the military. They need transcripts to apply for college scholarships and things like that."
Holbrook added, "Let's say they miss two or three weeks— though I pray it doesn't go that long. For the little ones, you can come back and do two or three more weeks but in high school they've committed to jobs, college or military and may not be able to do that."
When asked how a walk out would impact the school's athletic department, Holbrook said it's his personal opinion that it's "all or nothing."
"I've not spoken to other superintendents about this and I think if you do a walkout and don't shut down sports that's not fair. That's saying my baseball team is more important than an English class, which is not accurate," he said. "I feel like if you do a walkout, that is a school class so it needs to be included. I don't think you can have sports, though we would possibly allow them to continue practicing."
The school musical, he said, has already been re-scheduled just in case.
"These things are horribly stressful. I totally understand the teacher's side. Every year I feel like I've tried to be optimistic and say 'it will get better next year.' but literally every year it's gotten worse and worse. Every year. I'm concerned that they're not doing enough talking about that 29 percent cut. I want my teachers to make more, but I need more teachers," he said. "Since 2008, when I started, we're down 12 teaching positions but up over 100 students. That's what it looks like when you cut 29 percent . Schools need more funding."
Holbrook said he does not envy the state's legislators who now have a monumental task ahead of them.
"I keep telling our staff, we're going to support our teachers," he said. "For years and years I thought it'd get better, and it just hasn't. I don't know what else will get the attention to get them to do something to help the schools and the teachers."
Teachers across the state are threatening to walk out of classrooms and force school closures starting April 2 unless lawmakers find a way to increase state spending by nearly $1.5 billion.
“Schools will stay closed until we get what we’re asking for,” said Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union that represents thousands of educators across Oklahoma.
After years of doing more with less — educating students with out-of-date curriculum and no textbooks and cramming classrooms so full of students that teachers can’t provide necessary, individualized attention — it’s time to demand change, Priest said. Meanwhile, thousands of educators are leaving the state or the profession in search of better-paying opportunities, she said.
“Oklahoma educators have reached a breaking point. We cannot — no, we will not — allow our students to go without any longer,” Priest said.
Priest said the only way lawmakers will be able to ward off school closures is to:
— Pass a three-year, $10,000 pay increase — including $6,000 for the first year — for teachers at a cost of $610 million;
— Pass a three-year $5,000 pay increase — with $2,500 for the first year — for school support personnel at a cost of $130 million;
— Spend $200 million more on public school funding over three years;
— Allocate $213 million for an a state employee pay raise over three years;
— and increase health care funding by $255.9 million over two years.
Janelle Stecklein CNHI’s capitol reporter contributed to this story.