In a state where budget cuts have led some school districts to resort to four-day weeks, Oklahoma teachers are planning a walkout for April 2 if the legislature does not agree to more money for schools before then.
Spiro Public Schools Superintendent Richard Haynes said he absolutely supports the walkout and will ask the the school board to approve closing school that day.
"We support anything that will get the attention of the legislature," Haynes said.
Haynes said that if Spiro Public Schools had an additional $1,000 per student, then it would tie for the lowest-funded in the region — the region including nearby states such as Kansas, Arkansas and Texas. As of now, Spiro is looking at having to reduce its budget by $25,000 this school year. To put that into perspective, that could cover the salary of a support staff member, Haynes said.
According to a news release, the Oklahoma Education Association's proposal for funding increases during the next three years include:
• $10,000 teacher pay increase.
• $5,000 pay increase for support professionals such as secretaries, custodians, bus drivers, mechanics and food service workers
• $200 million to restore public school funding.
• $213 million for state employee pay raises.
• $255.9 million in health care funding (during the next two years).
Sallisaw Public Schools Superintendent Scott Farmer said that while he doesn't think any teachers would exactly support the walkout, everyone understands that Oklahoma school budgets have taken cuts.
"If our teachers decide April 2 that that is in the best interest of the students, then I will be right there with them," Farmer said, adding that the hope is for the legislature to fix this before April 2.
He said that the district's budget is $800,000 less than it was in 2009.
"We lost our state teacher of the year to northwest Arkansas because of pay," Farmer said.
Farmer said the former high school English teacher could not afford to live off of his salary in Oklahoma, but was able to make nearly $15,000 more a year at a Bentonville school.
While much of the rhetoric has surrounded teacher pay, Farmer added that most teachers are more concerned about properly funding the schools so that students have adequate resources and are not crammed into classrooms.
Alan Welker teaches eighth-, ninth- and 10th-grade English at Gore Public Schools. He said that while he wants to see the legislature take action on the budgets, he opposes the walkout. Welker said by phone that his biggest problem with the protest is that some teachers do not vote.
"Oklahoma is in the middle of a financial crisis. Like or lump it, the money for teacher raises simply isn’t there," Welker said in a written statement. "Any raise or stipend would mean cuts would be made elsewhere or that taxpayers would be forking over more to the state. Teachers knew the situation when they got into the profession. It has never been a secret that teachers hardly make two nickels to rub together."