School Superintendent Arrott issues letter on teacher walkout, guidance for parents
Ponca City Now - March 15, 2018 9:15 am
Superintendent Shelley Arrott
Following is a letter from Superintendent Shelley Arrott on the proposed teacher walkout on April 2:
To All Ponca City Public School Parents, Employees, and Patrons:
As most of you have already heard, Oklahoma teachers intend to walk out on April 2 if the Oklahoma Legislature does not meet their demands by April 1, 2018. The Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) presented a list of their demands at a statewide press conference held on March 8 at its Oklahoma City office. The demands include a $10,000 pay raise for all Oklahoma teachers and a $5,000 pay raise for all school support staff.
OEA stipulated that the raises can be funded over the course of three years, but calls for $6,000 of the teacher pay raise to be funded the next coming fiscal year. As part of their demands, the OEA is also asking lawmakers to increase public school funding by $200 million, find $213 million for state employee pay raises and $255.9 million in additional health care funding.
The profession of teaching in Oklahoma has faced deplorable statistics in the last few years. Oklahoma teachers have not received a pay raise from the state since 2008 and are the lowest paid teachers in the nation. From 2010-2015, more educators have left education than have joined the profession. In fact, Oklahoma loses 383 teachers per month, and the State Department of Education approves over 90 emergency certificates each and every month. Emergency certifications are up 3,500 percent in recent years, and schools are struggling to fill open teaching positions, including Ponca City. Since 2008, public education enrollment in Oklahoma has increased by 40,000 students, while state aid funding has decreased by $213 million. Our legislature has given our teachers no reason to stay in this great state, and consequently, our children are suffering in Oklahoma.
Teachers are frustrated with the legislature’s failure to fund education, which has led to large class sizes and program cuts. Teachers, who prepare the next generation for all other professions, cannot afford to make ends meet in Oklahoma. Many are fleeing our state so they may provide for their own family.
Keep in mind, teachers are not letting your children down by participating in a walkout. They are fighting for your children; otherwise, they would not even consider taking such drastic measures. No one wants this walkout to occur, including teachers. Our teachers love their students and know their educational needs are suffering.
Whether you agree or disagree with this impending walkout, you need to be prepared. If the walkout does occur, Ponca City Public Schools will be forced to suspend operations until the teachers return. If operations are suspended and school is closed, time lost will be made up at the end of the 2017-2018 school year. I strongly advise parents and employees to plan on school being in session after Memorial Day and possibly into June. The length of the makeup days will depend on the length of the walkout.
Our local Association of Classroom Teachers organization is in constant communication with our community partners and other resources to ensure you have support with childcare and meals during the impending work stoppage. There are multiple state task forces and local organizations working to prepare for the implications in the event a teacher walkout happens on April 2. There will be an OEA led Town Hall Meeting to provide resources and answer questions on Thursday, March 29 at 6 p.m. at West Middle School should the Oklahoma Legislature not meet the teachers’ demands.
I know everyone will have many questions, so I am providing guidance for parents and employees, in the form of Frequently Asked Questions, as attached, via email, and I will post them on our website. Please utilize this resource for information you may need. However, feel free to call me, or my administrative staff, with any questions, and we will do our best to give you accurate answers.
As education funding continues to diminish in our state, the challenges teachers face in the classroom continue to increase. Our state must thoughtfully and deliberately make education reform in Oklahoma a priority. I urge you to speak up, speak out, and be heard. Contact your legislators and let them know that while we appreciate their hard work, they have fallen short of what our children deserve and what schools need to prepare students for their future. I have provided links below with contact information for our legislators as well as the vote count on the recently defeated Step Up Plan.
I will keep you informed of continued developments through the PCPS App, Ponca City Public Schools Facebook Page, and our website www.pcps.us.
Ponca City Public Schools
Work Stoppage School Guidance for Parents:
Q: Are teacher strikes illegal?
A: Yes. Oklahoma law prohibits a local bargaining agent and members of a local bargaining unit from engaging in a strike as a means of resolving a dispute with a local school district during the bargaining process. The bargaining agent is decertified during the period of the strike and striking teachers lose pay and benefits during the period of the strike.
Q: Is a statewide walkout against the legislature a strike?
A: No. A strike by definition is withholding services from an employer to gain an economic advantage in the collective bargaining process. A statewide walkout against the legislature is not a strike against a local school district and would not be prohibited by the anti-strike language in the school district negotiations statutes. The Oklahoma Attorney General ruled in an informal letter opinion that the statewide walkout in 1990 supporting the passage of HB 1017 was not a strike prohibited by these statutes, but rather a statewide protest against the Oklahoma Legislature and therefore the anti-strike prohibition did not apply.
In the event of a walkout, the district will have to make the determination if the district operations would be debilitated due to the number of employees participating in the walkout. If students cannot be supported or supervised, we will have to close operations.
Q: How does the school closure affect graduating seniors?
A: The majority of our seniors have the required number of credits to graduate. For the few who do not, they may still walk at graduation and will have to acquire the credits during the summer before receiving their diploma. The graduation date will not change.
Q: What will students do who participate in the SHARE Program, the Pioneer Technology Program, and Concurrent Enrollment?
A: Students enrolled in these programs will attend these courses. Universities and the PTC will not close if PCPS determines school closure.
Q: What if school is closed on April 3, which is the ACT testing date?
A: If school is closed on April 3, we will offer two days to take the test: April 3, the regular scheduled date, and April 24, the make-up date. Working staff will administer and monitor the assessment. More details to come.
Q: Can we skip state testing if school is closed?
A: Federal dollars are attached to state testing. If we face the worst case scenario, the SDE will be in constant communication with the Secretary of Education. We will keep you informed.
Q: What about AP Testing the first week of May?
A: We will provide guidance as we move closer to that date if necessary.
Q: If the testing window is delayed or rescheduled we will not get 3rd grade reading scores back, therefore will not know which students met RSA criteria. What about summer school for 3rd grade students who do not meet RSA criteria?
A: A summer reading program is currently scheduled to provide support to 3rd grade students who are not reading at grade level. Recently, the SDE communicated that summer school is no longer required but recommended. We would cancel the summer reading program.
Q: If we do not test 3rd grade students how will we know which meet RSA criteria and which do not?
A: We would use the 4 Pathways to Proficiency outlined by RSA law which include students scoring at the 40th percentile with a 393 scaled score on a STAR assessment.
Q: What if our students lack supervision and nutrition during a walkout and subsequent school closure?
Zach Murray, our local ACT President, and other ACT Members are working with community partners to develop a plan. Resources will be provided to parents through newsletters and the OEA Town Hall Meeting tentatively scheduled on March 29 at 6 p.m. in the West Middle School Auditorium.
Q: If school is closed due to a suspension of work, will extra-curricular activities continue?
A: As of March 14, it is the plan that all extra-curricular scheduled activities, such as meets, games, concerts, competitions, trips, etc. will continue. However, all practices will begin after the regular contract day ends at 3:35 p.m.
Q: If school is closed will students have to make up days?
A: Yes. Oklahoma law provides that school shall be in session and classroom instruction offered for not less than one hundred eighty (180) days or not less than one thousand eighty (1,080) hours. See 70 O.S. §1-109. Further, state law requires that any school district that does not maintain school for a full term (i.e., 180 days/1,080 hours), shall have its State Aid reduced proportionately. See 70 O.S. § 18-110
If the work stoppage and school closure lasts a significant number of days, parents need to make plans for students to attend school after Memorial Day and likely into June. We will keep you informed.
Q: When will we know if the decision has been made to close school due to the walkout?
I will make this decision a day at a time, and I will plan on announcing the closure or return the evening before. If possible, I will make this decision on Friday evening for the following Monday. Stay informed through the PCPS App, the Ponca City Public Schools Facebook Page, local media outlets, and the district website www.pcps.us.