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OFF THE COUCH: A significant week for public education

OFF THE COUCH: A significant week for public education
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As far as the statewide public education crisis is concerned, according to Dr. Marc Moore, Stillwater Superintendent, this district’s more fortunate than many others since Stillwater’s a regional city with more possibilities for teachers. It’s hardly necessary to mention the important part OSU plays in Stillwater’s favorable situation.

Moore was a college student when the 1990 walkout took place, so this is a new experience for him. If you read Moore’s proposed plans for the walkout in the March 27 News Press, you can see how much detail’s involved. The district is planning for everything from meals and extra-curricular activities to ACT testing.

The legislative situation’s much more complicated now with the addition of the legislative supermajority requirement for passing tax increases. In 1990, there was also bipartisan leadership with Republican Gov. Henry Bellmon and Democratic legislative leaders Steve Lewis and Bob Cullison supporting the bill.

Moore prepared a list of facts showing what has brought about this walkout. The Legislature hasn’t approved a raise for teachers since 2006-2007. The expenditure/average daily membership for this district has decreased by $25.17 in the last 10 years. With more teachers leaving the state, the State Dept. of Education issued a record number of emergency teaching certificates for 2017-2018. Numerous districts have gone to four-day weeks.

Moore said funding cuts have caused staff reductions while the district’s growing. In the past 10 years, class sizes have been getting larger. It’s harder to find teachers for open positions. The areas of math, science, special education and foreign languages are the most difficult. Surprisingly, elementary and early childhood teachers are also becoming hard to find.

Moore gave an example for foreign languages. In the 90s, SHS offered four languages – Latin, French, Spanish and German. SHS now offers Spanish and French. With the goal of increasing the language offerings, the district’s currently advertising for a teacher for Latin, German or Chinese. They’re hoping to have an applicant. Moore talked about the importance of teaching Latin since it’s the basis for many scientific terms and the root of numerous English words.

This week brought good news when the Legislature made it over the supermajority percentage to pass raises for teachers, support personnel and state workers. The section on taxing hotel rooms has already been repealed though due to the hotel/motel industry outcry. There’s now debate over whether that omission leaves the State short for coverage of the raises.

In all the week’s headlines, former Sen. Tom Coburn’s reaction has been the most astonishing. According to a March 29 Tulsa World story, he’s joined an anti-tax group and claims it would be “easy to come up with $400 million to $500 million in cuts” so there wouldn’t be any need for new funding. Has he made any suggestions as to where those millions might be?

He also said lawmakers hadn’t been given the proper amount of time to read the bill or offer amendments. Coburn doesn’t say how many weeks or months would be enough time.

His reaction can best be described as pathetic.

This group’s already talking about organizing a petition drive for a state question for repeal of the revenue-raising amounts. They also plan to find opponents for any legislators who voted for the package.

This weekend should bring more news about whether the walkout takes place. Stay tuned.

Julie Couch is a longtime Stillwater resident.

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