Yukon schools holds town hall with teachers, parents, students ahead of possible walkout

YUKON, Okla. - The Yukon School District held a town hall Tuesday night in an effort to detail what a possible teacher and staff walkout, seeking a pay raise from the state, would mean for teachers, students and parents.

A number of districts around the metro and across the state have begun throwing their support behind teachers and staff who could walkout April 2 if state legislators do not pass a teacher and staff pay raise, and restore education funding in the state.

More than 200 people filled a portion of the Yukon High School gymnasium Tuesday evening to hear the contingency plans the district is putting in place if and when hundreds of employees walk off the job next month.

"I equate it to having a storm shelter," said district superintendent Jason Simeroth. "You want to prepare for the worst, but hope you never have to use it."

While much can change between now and April 1, Simeroth says if there aren't enough teachers at the district's 12 schools come April 2, the schools will close. He said of roughly 550 district staff polled, nearly 80 percent said they would walkout if something isn't done.

"The teachers are in charge," said Simeroth during the meeting. "And so as school district, we’re not closing on April 2, unless there aren’t enough teachers in the school to safely monitor children," adding the closure would work in similar fashion to days when weather forces schools to close.

"If you don’t hear from me, send your kids on April 2."

Simeroth says plans are in place to provide food for children who need it and that after school activities will continue. However practice for certain activities that would take place during the school day will be cancelled.

"We’re going to let those things happen, but no transportation will be provided to come to practices (after school)," he said. "We want to keep them engaged. Something to work for."

As for how a walkout would impact school testing and the legally-required amount of instruction hours in the school year has yet to be figured out. That depends on how long any potential walkout lasts. However, Simeroth urged parents to make sure their children attend as many days of school, as physically able, between now and the possible walkout date to get as much legally-required work done as possible.

"State tests are scheduled to start April 3. By that point, we will have covered all standards by Oklahoma law."

Simeroth did say if students aren't in school April 2, SAT college admission tests would not be scheduled, but noted April 24 would be the last day to take them. The school's use as a weekend ACT testing site would not be impacted by an extended closure he said.

Board to vote on resolution Wednesday

The town hall came hours before the district's school board is set to hold a special meeting Wednesday morning to discuss and likely approve a resolution supporting a salary increase for its teachers, compared to surrounding states, and increasing school funding for districts across the state.

While a formal move, Simeroth says it also has a message of solidarity.

"We got your back," he said. "That’s our message to our parents, about our teachers. That’s the board’s message to our teachers, is we support you. You’ve put up with this long enough, we understand what you have to do and we’ll do the best we can to make it as easy on you as we can."

As the town hall progressed Tuesday evening, the apprehensive mood that many came in to the gymnasium with seemed to lighten, as Simeroth took questions from the crowd, even interspersed with applause, albeit subdued.

"It’s my opinion, right now, that the community will step up behind us. And I believe in that," said Barney Moon, a veteran teacher of 22 years, a majority of them with Yukon schools.

“I think what’s going on right now is you’ve got the teachers unifying, the community behind us," said the high school Oklahoma history teacher and tennis coach. "The only people not behind us right now, are the legislators.”

House lawmakers have been unable to reach the required 76 votes necessary to increase taxes in recent months to fund, in-part, teacher pay increases.

Oklahoma Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, 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.

With teachers leaving the profession, or the state for better pay, parents say it's put teachers and staff at a breaking point.

“I know we are losing a lot of them to other avenues," said Sheila Baker, a Yukon parent. "You’re going to move where the money is, and I think that they need that money."