As a show of support for Oklahoma’s teachers, Ada schools will close April 2 if educators across the state go on strike.

Voting 5-0, the Ada Board of Education authorized Superintendent Mike Anderson to suspend school if teachers walk off the job next month. Schools will stay closed for the duration of the strike if it lasts more than one day, and if the number of teachers who walk out exceeds the district’s ability to conduct school safely.

If the district falls below the legally required threshold of 1,080 hours of school, officials will add minutes to school days and put more days on the academic calendar to comply with state requirements.

The decision to suspend school is up to the district as a whole, not individual sites, Anderson said. He urged the audience to respect other people’s decisions concerning the strike, no matter what they are.

“We’ve come too far to let something like this splinter us,” he said. “We’re too good for that. Don’t let that happen.”

Teacher walkout

The board’s decision came less than a week after the Oklahoma Education Association called for teachers to walk off the job April 2 if the Legislature fails to come up with a suitable plan for funding schools and boosting teachers’ pay.

The state’s largest teachers union proposed a $812 million package for fiscal year 2019 that includes the following elements:

• A $10,000 pay raise for teachers, including a $6,000 raise in fiscal year 2019.

• A $5,000 raise for full-time school support staff, including a $2,500 raise for FY 2019.

• An additional $200 million in state aid to schools, including $75 million in the first year.

• A $213 million raise for state workers, divided into $71 million over three years.

• An additional $255.9 million in health care spending over two years — $234.6 million in FY 2019 and $21.3 million in FY 2020.

OEA President Alicia Priest said last week that state law requires lawmakers to present their education budget by April 1 each year. She said the Legislature could avoid a teachers strike by following the law and submitting an acceptable plan by the April 1 deadline.

Local support

Several people who spoke at Monday’s school board meeting said they supported a teachers strike if the Legislature fails to act.

Ada Junior High teacher Noelle Bryan, who read a prepared statement supported by 32 other educators, said the teachers who did not attend the meeting were waiting to see if the board supported the walkout.

“Here in this moment, with these issues, teachers should not be afraid to express that even if we don’t know the best course of action, there needs to be change,” she said. “And if a school walkout will help that happen, we should not feel ashamed to support it or feel like we have to be given permission to believe in it.”

Bryan said she personally supported a walkout, but she did not know how many other teachers felt the same way. She said an official statement of support from the board could open the door to discussions about the role teachers should play once they walk out of school.

“Statewide, what’s the plan?” she said. “How will Ada best represent itself in the larger statewide discussion? How are we going to feed our students? I promise you, once the teachers in this district are free to hold these discussions and ask these questions, there will be solutions.”

Parent Tiffany Guinn said she backed the teachers and their call for action.

“I just feel that everybody needs to change,” she said. “They need to change their way of thinking and the way that the state is just basically not taking care of their students, their teachers and their schools.”

Before voting, the five school board members each said they supported Ada’s teachers and hoped the Legislature would find a way to provide more money for education.

Board member Russ Gurley said a pay raise for teachers wasn’t the only issue at stake.

“Even though our educators have not had a pay raise in 10 years and Oklahoma currently ranks an embarrassing 50th in the nation in teacher pay, this walkout is not solely about teacher salaries,” he said. “It is about respect.”

Board President Keri Norris said Ada’s teachers and students deserve more support than they have received from the state.

“I think it’s time to properly fund not only teachers’ salaries, but education as a whole,” she said. “And I think if this is a step to forward that, then I would support it. Because I believe our students deserve the respect, and I believe our students deserve better than what the Legislature and the state have given them to date.”

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Eric Swanson is the City Hall and general assignment reporter for The Ada News. He spent 15 years working at the Dodge City Daily Globe in Dodge City, Kansas, before joining The Ada News’ staff in 2012.