With the Oklahoma Education Association calling for a statewide teacher walkout on April 2 if state lawmakers don't fund education and teacher pay raises by April 1, Shawnee's superintendent and the local teachers group are surveying teachers in case a school closure is needed.

With the Oklahoma Education Association calling for a statewide teacher walkout on April 2 if state lawmakers don't fund education and teacher pay raises by April 1, Shawnee's superintendent and the local teachers group are surveying teachers in case a school closure is needed.

Tiffany Hile, a first-grade teacher at Jefferson Elementary and current president of the Shawnee Association of Classroom Teachers, said there is still much discussion going on, but a survey is being sent by SACT to all of its members to gauge support about walking out for a “job action” on April 2.

“We do not want to be out of school or disrupt our classrooms...but we're ready for them to listen to us. It's time to take a stand,” Hile said.

If the walkout happens and there won't be enough staff and teachers to work and safely hold school in Shawnee, the district will look at school closure on April 2, according to a letter that Superintendent Dr. April Grace has sent to teachers.

“I wanted to touch base with you all regarding the ongoing unrest that you are experiencing as a result of the conversations about a potential Teacher Work Stoppage/ Walk Out on April 2,” she wrote, adding this is a strenuous and difficult time in education.

“Please rest assured that as a District we support you and understand the frustration that teachers are feeling with the lack of a funded pay raise and increased funding for education as a whole. We are working with SACT and they will likely be sending a survey to determine where you all stand collectively,” she wrote. “This information will be important for me to have in order to determine if we will have enough coverage in classrooms to provide a safe learning environment for students. I will need to ascertain whether or not as a District we will be able to have school or whether we will need to suspend classes”

And while the OEA's action intends to put pressure on the the legislature as a whole to act on teacher pay raises and education funding, Grace reminded all teachers in her letter that local representatives, including Rep. Dell Kerbs, Rep. Josh Cockroft and Rep. Zack Taylor, along with Sen. Ron Sharp and Sen. Jason Smalley, have all voted yes for previous funding measures.

Sharon Reese, a Shawnee High School teacher who also serves as an OEA board member, echoed those statements as well.

“They have been on our side historically,” she said, adding they do support education. And while Reese said teachers would prefer to stay in the classroom, they also want legislators to do their jobs.

“We're still hopeful the legislature will come up with funds by the April deadline,” she said.

If not, and the teacher walkout commences, many teachers will likely be at the Capitol, while others may be doing informational picketing around Shawnee, Hile said.

Reese said funding for education in 2018 remains as the same levels it was back in 2007, but with many more students in today's classrooms. Districts across the state, including Shawnee, have endured budget cuts, she said, with no more left to cut.

In addition to restored funds to education overall, OEA is asking for a $10,000 teacher pay raise over three years, with $6,000 for the first year, and $2,000 in years two and three, Reese said. Support staff, such as secretaries, custodians and cafeteria workers, are seeking a $5,000 raise over the three-year period, Reese said.

And while teacher raises are a big part of the reasoning of OEA, overall funding for education is also at the forefront.

For Hile, who said the state budget cuts have already taken so many resources away, a raise wouldn't be as important to her if all the other budget cuts they've had weren't having such a dramatic impact on schools and students.

“There are no more resources to cut,” she said.

Should schools close April 2, plans also are being discussed on how to provide food for students as many rely on schools for their meals.

In Shawnee, 93 percent of the student body is eligible for free and reduced lunches, Reese said, so they are working to make sure kids have food, even if classes aren't being held because of a teacher walkout.

The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma also is working on a coordinated response to provide food assistance to children, families and school personnel during the anticipated teacher walkout.

For now, though, everyone just has to wait to see what happens next.

“We continue to work with legal counsel on ways to address the potential days that could be missed with teachers or various groups of employees,” Grace concluded in her letter to district teachers. “We will communicate with you about the types of leave that would be appropriate or how that will be handled, as things unfold. While these things are being sorted through please try to keep students the center of your focus. We cannot say thank you adequately enough to express how we truly feel about each of you as educators and support staff.”