Oologah Classroom Teachers' Association to School Board
Good evening board members. Oologah Classroom Teacher's Association would like to thank each board member for your continued efforts and support in cultivating a school district in which our students and staff have the opportunities to be successful.
I am not standing here just representing OCTA. I am here representing all the teachers and support staff of Oologah-Talala Public Schools. It is evident to us drastic changes must occur in the funding of education in Oklahoma. As you are all aware, the current funding for our schools is lacking and insulting. The lack of funding effects our children, our students. In the last ten years budget cuts have forced our administration to make difficult decisions that have impacted the quality of education provided to our students. The number of courses and sections offered in the secondary schools has tremendously decreased. We have absorbed positions left by retiring teachers, resulting in a decreased number of courses offered. This has resulted in increasing the number of students in each class. The secondary schools are now sharing most of their elective teachers. Curriculum department funding has ceased to exist, causing the teachers to pay for materials out of their own pockets, ask for donations from their students' parents, or to rearrange lessons omitting hands on activities that are essential in academic development. Our elementary students are not issued textbooks, and the textbooks they do use are outdated, from more than ten years ago, and they are falling apart. Teachers have had no choice but to make paper copies to issue their students, but at the same time have been warned to keep their paper count down due to costs.
The impact of budget cuts has not only effected the classrooms, they have reached all areas within the district. We have decreased the number of support positions in the district. One custodian is being asked to complete the amount of work in the same time frame two custodians were expected to ten years ago. The amount of maintenance needed surpasses the time in which our skeletal crew can complete. The cafeteria personnel is so shorthanded that menus are changed and lines are closed when someone is out sick. We have had bus drivers complete two routes in the afternoon due to lack of bus drivers. Many of our teachers are filling in the gaps and have full time morning and afternoon bus routes. Our administrators have also periodically stepped in as substitute bus drivers when there is a shortage.
Throughout all of these cutbacks and absorption, the teachers and staff of Oologah-Talala Public Schools have found ways to meet the needs of our students and community in every way we can. We stay longer than our contract requires, we come to work on the weekends, we take our work home, and we cover classes when a substitute teacher is not available. Many of the teachers and staff have second or third jobs just to make ends meet financially. The Baker family is a prime example of the hardworking teachers who cannot meet their family financial needs just on their teacher salaries. Mr. Baker drives a bus in the morning and in the afternoon, teaches in the Upper Elementary all day, and delivers pizza for Mazzios for 20-25 hours a week and delivers school buses over the summer across the US. Mrs. Baker works the morning extra duty with early students for the Upper Elementary, teaches math all day, tutors twice a week after school, works for Mazzios for 20-25 hours per week, and scores for Pearson in the summer. They are only one family out of the many who have had to find means of supplemental income to support their families. A difficult decision has been made by many of our former coworkers, and is currently playing in the minds of our current teachers and staff members. Should we leave the state to teach the same content, within the same contract hours, for an average pay increase of $19,000? Or should we stay, and fight for what we deserve and for what the students of Oologah-Talala Public Schools need?
As of last month, Oklahoma is 50th in the country when it comes to teachers' salaries. Last. When has it ever been good to be the last when it comes to education? We are losing good teachers to other states or other careers. We are limited on number of applicants for the very few positions we have available. Our class sizes are growing. It is becoming more difficult to build and develop our students for their futures.
Sadly, this is the trend in school districts across the state. Given the recent announcement of further budget cuts, we can no longer continue the status quo. We believe that any answer to this crisis must be both adequate to the needs of the districts and sustainable to continue to mend what has been created and build on what we can become. We believe the legislators have ignored the teachers, support personnel, administrators and parents long enough. We are ready to take the needed drastic measures.
The teachers and support personnel of Oologah-Talala Public Schools have decided to join the majority of Oklahoma schools in the movement to advocate for our children and for ourselves. We are requesting that you, the officers of Oologah-Talala School Board support our decision by choosing to suspend our calendar beginning April 2nd School would remain closed until the legislators and the Governor have signed a bill that will provide a solution to keep our schools open and functional, as well as giving the teachers and support personnel the monetary respect they deserve.
We understand that a suspension will cause a temporary inconvenience for some families in our community. This was not a decision we made lightly nor are we insensitive to the struggles of the working family with children. These are our children too. We love them and we want them to receive a quality education that provides proper funding and individualized instruction. Teachers, support personnel and members of our OPT are taking a proactive role in establishing resources to help relieve some of the inconveniences that will come with the school closing down. We will be contacting the local churches and nonprofits to discuss possible accommodations for our students. We plan to reach out to food pantries in efforts to provide meals for students who normally rely on the schools breakfast and lunch programs as their only food source. We are so incredibly blessed by the heart of our community, members have already shown great support and initiative. We are strong. We can pull together, we can help one another, and we can achieve what is needed. We are hopeful that the community will continue their support for our teachers and staff throughout this difficult fight.
In closing, I would like to end with one troubling statistic. So far this school year, there have been over 2,000 emergency teacher certifications issued in the state of Oklahoma. These
certifications were issued to people who have zero experience in education, and have not been through any college education courses. They have not completed one hour of teacher internship in a classroom. They do have a degree of some sort, but not in education. Again, we are asking you to please support a suspension of our school calendar beginning April 2ndwe continue down this path, we are failing our students, our children. We are doing them an injustice. Our children deserve better. Their families deserve better. Please join us in doing what needs to be done for the future of education in Oklahoma, in Oologah-Talala School District, and in your home. Thank you for your time.