Bartlesville schools suspension could be averted by Senate action

posted Mar 27, 2018, 1:45 PM by Granger Meador   [ updated Mar 27, 2018, 1:47 PM ]

Bartlesville Public Schools could be in session on April 2 if the Senate acts promptly to approve a package of education funding bills the House passed on Monday, March 26.

However, if a grand bargain does not pass both chambers before Monday, Bartlesville will suspend classes to allow teachers to join in a statewide walkout.

The House bills addressed what Bartlesville superintendent Chuck McCauley identified as the district’s key issues: a meaningful teacher raise for the 2018-19 school year, more operational funding for schools, and reportedly filling the state budget hole to prevent more cuts.

The bills would provide an average teacher pay raise of approximately $6,100 via increases in the minimum salary schedule ranging from $5,001 for a starting teacher with a bachelor’s degree to $8,395 for a teacher with a doctorate and 25 or more years of experience. They would also provide a $1,250 wage increase for school support employees. Reportedly an additional $50 million would be available to fund textbooks and school operations across the state. Rep. Earl Sears supported the bills and indicated they would also provide funding to fill the state budget hole and thus avoid additional cuts across state agencies. A final component of the House package would provide pay raises of $750 to $2,000 for state employees.

The Senate will consider the bills this week. If it amended one or more bills, they would then return to the House. That could delay final action from both chambers until late this week or, more likely, into next week.

Superintendent McCauley conducted a survey that gleaned responses from 280 of the approximately 400 Bartlesville teachers. Three-fourths of the responding teachers indicated that Senate passage of a package like that which passed the House last night would be sufficient for them to remain in their classrooms on April 2 and not participate in a walkout.

McCauley stated, “Based on the feedback from our teachers, if both the House and Senate have not passed a final package by Monday, April 2 then I will suspend school. Notice will be sent out by School Messenger and posts on the district website and Facebook page in the same manner as inclement weather notices. Daily notices would follow to indicate if schools would or would not resume each subsequent day.”

The superintendent added, “However, if both chambers pass a final package that is functionally equivalent to what the House passed on Monday, I will NOT suspend classes. If that happens before Monday, 4/2 then we will have school as normal that day. If that doesn’t happen until after this weekend, then school will be suspended in hopes that will help spur passage.”

McCauley also noted that this sort of grand bargain would only be a beginning in addressing school districts’ operational funding needs. In future fiscal years, the legislature would also need to provide additional teacher raises to continue to address the statewide teacher shortage. However, he noted, “Just as we did not arrive in the situation we are in today in one year, we cannot remedy it entirely in one year.  A bargain such as this that makes its way through both chambers would deserve our support as a step in the right direction.”

Monday night was the first time since State Question 640 was enacted in 1992 that the House passed a tax increase with the required 75% supermajority. Superintendent McCauley indicated, “This monumental and historic achievement is directly attributable to the leadership of Bartlesville teachers, students, and our community as well as the overwhelming response from districts and their communities across our great state.”

The Oklahoma Senate will now consider a package of education funding bills that a super-majority of House members passed on Monday, 3/26/2018