Board to discuss teacher walkout

posted Apr 5, 2018, 2:55 PM by Granger Meador   [ updated Apr 5, 2018, 2:56 PM ]

The Bartlesville Board of Education will conduct a special meeting on Friday, April 6 at 4:00 p.m. in the Fine Arts Center auditorium at Bartlesville High School. The purpose of the meeting is to gather public input on the ongoing teacher walkout. The board will be considering a resolution to reconvene school as soon as practical under the circumstances.

At its meeting on March 12 the board voted to authorize Superintendent Chuck McCauley to suspend schools for up to ten days if a teacher walkout occurred as threatened statewide on April 2. While the legislature did pass before the deadline a record $480 million in new appropriations for education as part of a package of 12 interlocking bills, teachers still walked out statewide on April 2, protesting how $50 million in revenue in that package had been repealed by the House and that the $17 million increase in school formula funding in the package was inadequate, noting that was smaller than the $22 million cut in such funding the state imposed in February.

Supt. McCauley initially suspended the schools on Monday, April 2, in hopes that teachers might return on Tuesday. But too many teachers filed absences for schools to be operated safely, extending the walkout. That prompted the superintendent to work with the local teacher’s organization to identify a plan for legislative action which would prompt local teachers to return to work. That plan has been promoted on the same website the district had used to promote its previous proposal for school funding, a plan which morphed into the bills the legislature eventually adopted.

The new plan directly addresses several bills that will be considered by the Senate on Friday, April 6. The plan asks the Senate to reject HB 1012xx and thus retain $50 million in funding from a lodging tax to ensure that a state worker pay raise is fully funded by new revenues. It also asks the Senate to pass HB 1013xx on ball & dice to dedicate $21 million to school operations and to also pass HB 1019xx on taxing third-party vendor sales on Amazon to dedicate $20 million to schools. Various ways to further boost school funding are also outlined, although they were not slated for action as of April 5.

If the district is forced to suspend classes next week, they will no longer be treated as inclement weather days for students. Instead, school days will be added onto the end of the current academic calendar in late May. Elementary and middle school students would attend classes on May 25 and then May 29 and beyond for each additional missed day. High school students are already scheduled to attend classes on May 25, so a suspension next week would cause them to attend classes on May 29 and beyond.

The district was a leader in seeking improved school funding throughout the year, including its development and promotion in March of a school funding plan, a modified version of which was carried forward in the House by Rep. Earl Sears. Bipartisan negotiations eventually yielded a series of a dozen interlocking bills, most of which passed the Senate in late March and have now been signed into law by the Governor. The measures appropriated $480 million to schools in the largest increase in school funding in state history. Most of the money was allocated to provide the largest teacher pay raises in state history, with an average teacher pay raise of $6,100 for the 2018-2019 school year. That will boost the average teacher salary in the state above the regional average, although it will still fall below that of Texas.

Funding was also appropriated for a $1,250 increase in school support personnel salaries, coverage for the annual increase in the cost of school employee health insurance benefits, and $17 million for school operations. While all of those school-related measures were funded, the threatened repeal of $50 million in lodging revenues would leave state worker pay raises in the package not fully funded by new revenues.