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Conversations at the Capitol

March 14, 2016

If you don’t have anything going on tomorrow morning, maybe you’ll consider joining a few hundred of my friends and me at the State Capitol.

Capitol Day.jpg

You should shape and share your own message. Mine will have several parts:

  • Thank you for authorizing the release of Rainy Day Funds.
  • Thank you for listening to your constituents who opposed ESAs.
  • Thank you, Senators, for unanimously advancing SB 1190 (eliminating End of Instruction exams). Representatives, I hope you’ll support it as well.
  • Thank you, Representatives, for unanimously advancing HB 2957 (granting districts flexibility for teacher evaluation). Senators, I hope you’ll support it as well.
  • The newly written standards are solid. You should listen to the Oklahoma educators who wrote them, not one outspoken professor from Arkansas, and definitely not some fringe group that claims to want nothing to do with public education. The SDE presented them to you on day one of this legislative session. What are you waiting for?
  • Representatives, I’d like to explain to you why I oppose SB 1187 (a bad school flexibility bill).

I haven’t written about SB 1187 in detail. I will in time. In short, and with all due respect to my fellow superintendents who have asked for this bill, it’s not the flexibility we are looking for. Claudia Swisher had a strong blog post on it last week. Claudia lists the things school districts could choose to do:

  • Kids who live in the district may not be entitled to go to those schools
  • Minimum salary schedules for teachers
  • Contributions to teacher retirement
  • Mandated health insurance for teachers
  • Criminal background checks…and no, there are not safeguards in place in other statutes.
  • Teacher evaluations
  • Any payroll deductions
  • Due process in dismissal
  • Certification for all teachers and administration
  • Negotiations between teachers and school district
  • Adherence to state-approved curriculum
  • Students show mastery of state Standards
  • School Board members’ continuing education and professional development

In other words, if a district has 75% of students passing state tests, and if 60% of teachers vote for these degregulations, then a school board could choose any or all of these changes. That’s a whole lot of conditions. In all likelihood, this isn’t going to get a lot of traction in the state.

The bill’s sole remaining senate author, Clark Jolley, claims he’s trying to give public schools the flexibility we’ve been asking for. I’m pretty sure I don’t remember asking for permission to roll back the minimum salary schedule or deny health and retirement benefits to my employees. In fact, those things are in law to protect teachers from those of us who would balance a district’s budget on their backs.

As for some of the other requirements, haven’t we spent the last five years fighting over standards?  Now we’re just going to let public schools ignore them? And teacher certification requirements? And teacher evaluation? Haven’t Jolley and his cohorts spent the last 12 years telling us that they know how to do these things better than we do?

Anyway, I digress. We’ll meet at the Capitol in the morning, spend a couple of hours thanking people for their support and asking for their continued help. It should be a great day. After that, let’s do lunch and really treat ourselves. It’s Spring Break; maybe we can take a solid 15 minutes to eat.

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  1. Amber Wood
    March 16, 2016 at 9:31 am

    This was my response from Senator Treat (or better yet, his Executive Assistant) when I sent an email to tell him I was one of his constituents and that I was disappointed in his vote on SB 1187: (and don’t worry, I nicely and respectfully replied to him that his response raised even more concerns for me and that I still was disappointed in and disagreed with his vote).

    SB 1187 provides public schools, if they so choose, with the same flexibility provided to charter schools. A few things must happen, though, before public schools can operate as an “empowered” school. The local district must adopt a plan and a majority of the local teachers must approve of it. The plan also must be approved by the state Board of Education before the local school is allowed to operate as an “empowered” school. Empowered schools would have to do criminal background checks on all teachers, provide health insurance to teachers, and demonstrate that at least 75 percent of students demonstrate mastery of subject matter standards.

    School administrators want this flexibility and freedom from red-tape and state mandates. In fact, two rural school superintendents recently wrote in support of SB 1187 http://newsok.com/article/5482644 because it would allow them to focus more on the needs of students. The Oklahoma Public School Resource Center requested SB 1187, which is sponsored by Oklahoma House Speaker Jeff Hickman of Fairview and Senator Clark Jolley of Edmond, because that organization has been asked to help assist school superintendents who also see the value in being able to have more flexibility.

    This bill does not apply to all Oklahoma schools and does not deregulate public schools. This bill doesn’t indiscriminately strip away teacher rights. This bill simply gives parents, teachers and local school officials the option to pursue innovative education models to help improve student learning and outcomes.


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