EDMOND, Okla. — Superintendent Bret Towne began the Monday night Edmond School District’s School Board meeting with a 3-pronged statement concerning education in Oklahoma and more specifically Edmond schools.
The three topics he spoke about concerned teacher pay, teacher walkout/work stoppage, and education funding.
The No. 1 goal in the state should be teacher pay, Supt. Towne said.
“It has been over 10 years since we have had a state teacher raise,” Towne added. “Teachers are deflated, demoralized, angry, frustrated and overworked dealing with larger class sizes and poor pay. We are all tired of lip service and empty promises of support and nothing ever happening.”
Towne called for unity in the goal toward raising teacher salaries.
“This is not a Democrat or Republican issue but an Oklahoman issue, and we need to unite in the goal of increasing teacher compensation,” Towne said.
Towne said teachers are leaving the state and Edmond for teaching positions out of state or pursuing other careers.
“Because of the pay and perception brought on by a decade of diminishing the career, there are not enough teachers coming out of college to fill the jobs of those retiring, let alone those leaving the state and profession,” Towne said. “While other states are experiencing a lack of teacher candidates going through colleges, in Oklahoma it is to a much higher degree.”
He added this spring there are an estimated 300 prospective teachers coming out of state universities.
“In Edmond alone we will need to hire 300 teachers for existing and new positions. Other districts are in the same situation. The two largest school districts in the state may need over 500 teaching positions each to fill next year’s classrooms. This may be the year that Edmond cannot hire enough teachers,” Towne said. “If so, class sizes will increase and programs might be in jeopardy.”
“We are being asked about Edmond teachers participating in a state-wide walkout or work stoppage and what is the Edmond Board’s position. This is a very fast moving, fluid conversation that is primarily playing out on social media at this point,” Towne said. “Up to now, I think that only one Board of Education has voted to officially support a teacher walkout.
“Today (Monday), district administrators met with the Edmond Association of Classroom Teachers and their OEA representative. Tomorrow, I will attend a meeting in Oklahoma City of superintendents discussing future events concerning a teacher walkout. Collectively, the Edmond Board has received some information from me but has been able to access news, emails and messages from teachers and patrons on the subject.”
Towne added that up to this point, unlike the walkout for HB1017, there are no plans at this time that anyone can say they support.
“I look for the large representative groups (OEA, OSSBA, PTA, CCOSA and others) to begin to have their positions on a walkout coalesce in the near future,” Towne said. “As more information is gathered, it will be given to the Board so they can consider any possible future action.”
Towne added, “The one item that is without dispute is that we are in a crisis and teachers need everyone’s support. I still have a concern about placing a student’s education in the middle of an argument between adults, but the most critical component driving a student’s success is a highly qualified, competent, caring teacher.
“The State of Oklahoma and school districts need to provide competitive compensation for teachers. Without adequate compensation which incentivizes the teacher’s career path and allows teachers to earn a living to stay in the profession, Oklahoma will continue to lose teachers to other states, have teachers leave the profession early, or not even consider a teaching career.”
Edmond is one of the poorest school districts in the state in relation to per pupil funding, according to Supt. Towne.
“Our student demographic and district property valuations historically keep us in the bottom of money spent on students from our general fund, and even though we prioritize teacher salaries and are $3,000 above the minimum state salary schedule, we are still $10,000 to $15,000 below salaries offered in surrounding states,” he said.
In 2008 the state spent $2,510,412,567 on education. In 2017 $2,426,721,434 was expended, Towne added.
“In that time period Oklahoma has added approximately 50,000 new students with 5,000 of those being Edmond students,” Towne said. “During that time, included in any increase in funding, was $128.8 million in health care costs that did not directly go into providing instruction or classroom supplies.”
Towne said in Edmond if you take out the health care costs, the district has $300 less per student to spend, or $7.5 million per year or $8.25 million if you count inflation over 10 years.
What does that mean? Towne said if that money was available — if Edmond Public Schools were just funded at the 2008 per pupil level — the school district could take the following actions:
• Give every teacher a $2,500 yearly raise.
• Give support personnel a $1,000 yearly raise.
• Put back $1,000,000 into school and department budgets.
• Add back 33 teaching positions to lower class sizes.
The funding issue continues.
“Two weeks ago our district was reduced $485,000. This is equivalent to more than 10 teaching positions,” Towne said.