Teachers meet ahead of union announcement, possible walkout

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MOORE, Okla. - Nearly 20 educators met in the Moore Public Library Wednesday evening to discuss recent events surrounding an initial, union-supported walkout date that has since been changed after outcry from teachers statewide.

"OEA might be the largest union in the state, but they really made a lot of their members really mad with that April 23 thing," said OEA member and Crooked Oak Independent School District teacher Nadine Gallagher.

The Oklahoma Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, is now tentatively planning for a walkout on April 2, if legislators don't increase teacher and staff pay, and restore education funding in the state. The OEA has scheduled a press conference for Thursday afternoon to discuss the matter further.

The OEA said on its Facebook Page Tuesday that "April 23rd will be the deadline for lawmakers to fund pay raises and education needs. After that, schools will shut down."

However, several upset OEA members commented on the post, saying they wanted an earlier deadline. Ultimately, the post was deleted and OEA announced that it was putting together more information about the proposed school closure dates, and that the proposed legislative deadline would be April 1, with walkouts to start the following day.

"Our goals remain the same. to force the legislature to pass a plan that provides teachers and support professionals a significant pay raise, and restores critical funding to our classrooms," said OEA President Alicia Priest in a video posted to the union's Facebook page. "We will not allow lawmakers, once again, to shortchange our students, our teachers and our support professionals."

The group is seeking a $10,000 pay raise for Oklahoma teachers over three years, a $5,000 pay raise for support professionals over three years, a cost-of-living adjustment for retirees and the restoration of funding for education and core government services.

The Oklahoma Education Association claims that nearly 80 percent of survey respondents said they would support a plan to close schools in order to force the legislature to focus on education.

OEA will hold a press conference at 1 p.m. Thursday at OEA headquarters with more information about a potential teacher walkout.

However, the OEA's decision has drawn the ire of grassroots teachers groups, mostly on Facebook, like the Oklahoma Teachers United group. On Wednesday, the group had two meetings in the state to further discuss the proposed walkout, but called out the OEA for playing "catch up," and accused the union for trying to block its efforts and sabotage a walkout the group had in the works.

With the walkout date walked back to April 2, those at the meeting in Moore said a cohesive message -- among union and non-union members -- is vital to see their demands met.

"We cannot give in if we do this. And my fear is we’re going to have too many people with too many ideas and want to give in and bow down," said J.J. Williams, a teacher in Oklahoma City Public Schools. "We don’t work until (legislators) get their job done. They failed us for 20 years, it’s time we go back and take it to them."

"Everybody has skin in this game. because it’s not just teachers, it’s parents, it’s grandparents and it’s kids," said Gallagher. "And if you’ve ever had one of those, or been one of those, you have skin in this game."

KFOR reporters Jess Bruno, Lacey Lett, and editor Kim Querry contributed to this story.