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Teachers may walk out April 2

The Oklahoma Education Association clearly stated its demands Thursday  the State Legislature needs to approve a $6,000 pay raise for educators by April 1 or OEA members will walk out of their classrooms on April 2.

"Today, we demand that the Legislature pass a budget with the necessary revenues to provide teachers and support professionals a significant pay raise and restore critical funding to our classrooms.The future of our students and our great state hang in the balance," said Alicia Priest, OEA president from the organization's headquarters in Oklahoma City. "Believe me, we want to be in our classrooms teaching our students ... we do not want to shut down schools and come to the Capitol  but we will."

Priest said, "Today we are putting lawmakers on notice. If by April 1, they have been unable to meet the terms we have laid out, then on April 2, the Oklahoma Education Association calls on every teacher and support personnel professional to walk out of their school house and head to the State House."

Cache Public Schools weighed in too.

If April 2 comes and the Legislature doesn't respond, then "this is a teacher-led decision. If my teachers decide to walk out, we will support them," said Chad Hance, Cache Public Schools superintendent, by phone from Cache.

"We're not walking out on our students; we're walking for our students. If we don't do something, (funding) will continue to decline," he said.

The demands 

The OEA's terms are for a $10,000 raise spread out over a three-year period, $6,000 this year and an additional $2,000 for each of the next two years. 

Teachers in Oklahoma "have reached a breaking point," Priest said, citing years of no textbooks or up-to-date curriculum, classes so full teachers can't provide adequate support, colleagues fleeing the state to find adequate pay and support personnel  "who ensure our students are fed and safe"  having to take on two or even three extra jobs to survive.

The association is looking for a "meaningful pay raise for education support professionals, teachers and state employees" to turn around decades of underfunding and cuts to "begin reinvesting in our public schools and essential state services," she said. 

The teacher shortage has led to approximately 2,000 emergency certifications. Cache Public Schools district, which has 2,000 students and 135 certified teachers has some emergency certified teachers and adjunct teachers to meet the needs, Hance said. 

Hance agrees that the educators are fed up and what the cuts have done to the district has directly and adversely affected the students.

"Our Legislature has let almost a full generation of kids suffer  from kindergarten through 12th grade  because of their decision to take no action to support public education," he said, adding that he was talking to some of his juniors at the high school about what the Cache Public School district could have offered them if the funding had been the same as it was in 2008. 

"We could have offered you speech and debate, more AP classes," he told those students. 

The most recent budget cut signed by Gov. Mary Fallin a few weeks ago, cut $50,000 out of Cache's budget.

"That is small, but that (equates to having another) teacher," he said.

Lawmakers have taken notice of the rising tide of educators' anger and frustration and the proposed walkout of April 2.

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