Teachers hear support for walkout to begin Monday

Ponca City Now - March 29, 2018 10:07 pm

Teachers in the Ponca City Public Schools on Thursday night heard support from the Oklahoma Education Association, the Association of Classroom Teachers, and the Ponca City Public Schools administration to continue plans for a walkout on Monday.

Zach Murray, Ponca City High School biology teacher and president of the local ACT chapter, moderated the Town Hall meeting held at West Middle School.

In  his opening remarks, Murray said that since 2008,  education funding has been cut 28 percent, with serious consequences in Oklahoma.

Since 2013, emergency certifications for people with bachelor’s degrees who were not certified as teachers have grown exponentially, he said.

“There were 50 emergency certifications then,” Murray said. “By August of the 2017-18 school year, 1,800 emergency certifications were approved. That is more than entire 2016-17 school year.”

He said those with emergency certifications have no training in classroom management or teaching methods. They have been hired because no certified teachers are available to be hired.

Class sizes have grown to 30 or more students, because there are no teachers available to reduce the ratio of students to teachers.

In 1990, HB1017, which mandated smaller class sizes was passed. That mandate was lifted in 2008, Murray said.

“Textbooks are falling apart and students can’t take them home,” he said. “We have reached a tipping point. There is nothing left that we can do.”

Lianne Stites, a second grade teacher from Lincoln Elementary School, told how she and her students are struggling because of inadequate budget.

“We are fighting for support staff, assistants, and smaller groups for teaching phonics,” Stites said. “Children need to take priority. Government is showing us our future is not so important.

“Students are not receiving what they need to be successful. We need to prioritize them,” she said.

“Teachers have left. In December, our fourth second grade teacher had to resign. We could not fill that position and had to incorporate his 20 students into our classrooms,” she said. “I went from 19 students to 27 over one weekend. Imagine the students and them being uprooted with a new teacher.”

She said some students have behavoiral issues and need one-on-one all the time.

“With 27 to 30 students with behavioral issues, they will act out. It’s not only those with the behavioral issues — the others are plummeting academically when the others act out. They all go down,” she said. “We have confidence struggles because students didn’t get to cover what they needed. This is a problem across the state. Government needs to know we need to put children first. We need to get teachers into the classroom with at most 19 kids in a classroom. With more, their plan has to be put on the back burner. We want them to be successful.”

Kathryn Bishop, Vice President of the Oklahoma Education Association and a special education teacher in the Putnam City school district, is a national board certified teacher.

“I love every day,” Bishop told the crowd at the Town Hall. “For the last two years I have been vice president of the  OEA. I get to work for our members who are working hard for children. In 2014, we had a one-day rally at the Capitol. In 2015, we had a  one-day rally at the Capitol. We talked to legislators who patted us on the head and said ‘we’ve got your back.’ That didn’t happen.

“We’ve had a decade of severe budget cuts,” Bishop said. “We joined with OU President David Boren to do something for our state and invest in education with the “Oklahoma Children, Our Future” campaign. We got  300,000 signatures in one month to get State Question 779 on the ballot. We heard ‘teachers need a pay raise. It’s the legislators’ job to do that.’ We were polling at 77 percent near the end of that campaign. Two weeks later, the state question was defeated.

“We said we have to do something. We joined the Save our State Coalition of community leaders and businesses,  the League of Women voters, and others. We knew we had lost over $2 billion in funding for our state and developed the SOS Better Budget Blueprint with a menu of revenues. Legislators didn’t act.

In 1992, voters approved State Question 640, which required a super majority of 75 percent to pass a revenue issue, Bishop said. “Because of that, the Legislature couldn’t pass the cigarette tax last session. They tried to turn it into a fee, and the court said no, it was a tax. Governor Fallin called for a special session and nothing was done.”

Bishop said the OEA started working on calling for a $10,000 teacher pay raise over three years, along with raises for support staff, a cost of living increase for retirees and funding for classrooms.

“We’ve come into the first special session with the A+ plan and got 71 votes, five votes short,” she said. “The governor called another special session, with the Step Up plan. It went to the house and failed. All during this time, we want this to continue because there’s going to be a day when it comes to a work stoppage. We had four bills to address those needs. One only got a hearing. The other three were not even heard in committee.”

Bishop said the time has come when it is going to take very serious steps to resolve the funding issues.

“Our goal is not to close schools. It is to get a budget passed for our kids. We set the date for April 1 because that is when the state  education budget needs to be set,” she said.

“We’ve been in limbo for three weeks. As of 3 p.m. today (Thursday), we thought House Bill 1010 XX, with largest teacher pay raise in history, which also addressed some of the other pieces, passed the House and Senate. It was totally dismantled today. A trailer bill took out $75 million in funding today in the Senate version.

“We thought they were making a down payment on our students. But the trust is gone. They are dismantling this bill,” Bishop said. “We need to be there (at the State Capitol) on April 2. Our future is sitting in a desk in the classroom.”

Bishop said “We are going to take it one day at a time. Everything is moving and it is fluid. Plans change from time to time. We’re trying to figure out what’s going on, but we will fight for our kids and the funding for our schools.”

Bishop encouraged teachers to remain committed to the cause.

“Go back three weeks — two weeks ago, the Senate attempted to pass a 12 percent teacher pay raise and it didn’t pass. Your voices are being heard,” she said. “At the beginning of the session we were told it was an election year and they weren’t going to do anything. Your voice matters. Your voice and activism brought House Bill 1010xx and put it up on the board. We need to fill the hotel-motel tax hole of $75 million. We need to maintain a purpose and specific action.”

Ponca City Superintendent Shelley Arrott said “It is desperate that we fill this hole. This funding is the critical issue.

“I worry every single night about filling our positions. If things don’t improve in Oklahoma that will not happen,” Arrott said. “I do appreciate the steps the Legislature has made, but I do not want it to be a ploy. We support you. Our board supports you. We will send a coalition of teachers and support staff who will be assigned to go to the Capitol and you will not have to pay your sub. We have to get quality teachers in our classes. We need to be able to have a teacher in every classroom.

“You’ve won the victory, don’t lose the war. We’re going to support you,” Arrott said.

ACT President Murray said a decision will be made Friday, March 30, on what will happen in Ponca City.

“I do know several school districts have started canceling walkout plans and then changed their mind,” Murray said. Be watching your school email for those updates. Always on our mind is what do we do for students who rely on their schools for two meals a day. Church members in Ponca City have been working since March 9 to assure students get breakfast and lunch. We can’t leave them out in the cold.

Cheyenne Megenity of Newport Church said she has been meeting with several community groups and organizations about how to get food to school children and a core group has been discussing different resources.

“We have NERA at 112 South First,” Megenity said. “The Food Bank of Oklahoma willl be sending additional foods and supplies for families. NERA will be holding food for families for up to 14 days.  You can go there at least two times during the month. Everything is on www.nera-frc.org.”

More information will be provided through the Ponca City Public Schools app and the school district’s social media.


Key Questions

Murray answered several questions. Here is a summary:

Students will still graduate. They will have their credits.

Extracurricular activities will still take place.

Prom will still happen.

Practices will still be held after 3:35 p.m. Sports will go on.

Travel will still happen for sports and fine arts. Trips are still happening.

College will not be affected.

ACT testing has only two dates for juniors, April 3 and April 24. They will still be taking the ACT test.

Junior students taking the ACT may be exempt from their finals if they choose. They can still take the final if they wish to improve their grade.

State tests can become flexible at the state’s discretion. National testing will not be affected.

The informational meeting will still happen regarding Pre-K at Washington next year.

Evening meetings and extracurriculars will still happen.

Thoughts on going extra days: By state law, students must go 175 days or 1080 hours. Depending on how long the walkout goes. Teachers must go 185 days. May have to extend contract or meet those hours by June 30.

Graduation will still be the same day. Students may have to come back to school after graduation, depending on how long the walkout lasts.

Track meet on April 5 is during the day. It will still happen. Only practices must happen after 3:35 p.m.

 

Q. Say we do walk and stand up for our rights. Then they pass a bill that gives us everything. What if they go back on it again?

A: We walk again and stay out until we get what we demand. If the Legislature changes it, we walk again. Because of the shenanigans, the distrust has just increased.


Contacting Legislators:

Kay County is divided between Senate Districts 19 and 10

and between House Districts 37 and 38.

Contacts:

Eddie Fields Senate District 10

Roland Peterson Senate District 19

Steve Vaughan House District 37

John Pfeiffer House District 38

Be polite. Keep it short and tell them what you want. They only want to hear from their constituents.

 

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