Spotlight on education at Rotary meet Public Schools Superintendent explains the problem of state funding of school education and the need to retain skilled teachers to have a competitive edge.

Brian Smejkal from the Sand Springs Rotary Club with this year's scholarship recipients Morgan Schlehuber, Baylee Cross and Madison Ward. Photo: Rachel Snyder
Brian Smejkal from the Sand Springs Rotary Club with this year’s scholarship recipients Morgan Schlehuber, Baylee Cross and Madison Ward. Photo: Rachel Snyder

The April 20 Sand Springs Rotary Club (Oklahoma, US – D 6110) meeting focused on education issues.

Sand Springs Public Schools Superintendent Sherry Durkee discussed the state budget problems that led to the recent statewide teacher walkout and Rotary Club members announced the recipients of this year’s Rotary club scholarships and discussed the upcoming Senior Celebration event.

Senior Celebration is the all night, alcohol and drug-free party for Charles Page High School seniors to celebrate after graduation.

The Rotary Club of Sand Springs made a donation of $600 for the event.

Morgan Schlehuber, Baylee Cross, Madison Ward and Emily Charles were announced as the recipients of this year’s Rotary Club scholarships.

Durkee discussed how state funding for education got to the place it’s been in recent years and how it led to the statewide teacher walkout.

“It’s been a crazy month,” Durkee said.

“I will tell you any time you have a challenge or an obstacle or a barrier or an insurmountable mountain I’ve always had this attitude I look at it as an element of growth and, man, I’ve learned about resiliency and leadership and education in a different way.”

“It makes people very resilient, it makes you bold, it makes you courageous and then it makes you really intensive on an effort to make the community better — the community of education, the community of Sand Springs and then Oklahoma as a state.”

She said Oklahoma needs to be regionally competitive with surrounding states when it comes to teacher and staff pay in order to attract and keep quality educators and support staff.

“When we want quality people, we have to be regionally competitive,” Durkee said.

“We’ve got to know that we’ve got to compete in salaries competitively so that we can support and keep our teachers.”

She said Oklahoma, prior to this legislative season, was ranking last in the region in per-pupil education spending.

Specifically, Durkee previously said Oklahoma was about $1 billion short of reaching the regional average in per-pupil spending prior to this legislative season.

She also said there are 525 fewer world language classes across the state, 500 fewer family and consumer science classes and 1,115 fewer art and music classes compared to four years ago as a result of the budget cuts.

“We still have them, by the way, but as a state, we felt like our funding had become such that we couldn’t provide the services that we needed for our students for them to be successful after graduation from high school, which is what our job is,” Durkee said.

From 2006-12, the average per-pupil spending was $9,434 and in the last four years, the average dropped to $8,756 per student, she said.

“That’s a lot of dollars that were flowing out of the stream of revenue that comes to Oklahoma schools,” Durkee said.

She said school districts are also suffering from a teacher shortage.

“Our biggest challenge in the state of Oklahoma was a teacher shortage,” Durkee said.

“Our applicant pool is so depleted that finding folks that are amply certified to teach all subjects, but specifically for us, things like math and science and special education—we can’t find them.”

She said Sand Springs is unique in that that the district has yet to have a year in the last 25 years in which there was a vacancy at the start of school.

“Union is sitting with 22 vacancies right now because they couldn’t find amply-certified teachers to take those spots,” Durkee said.

“(Teachers) go other places to teach, but they also go other places in the state to different jobs so they can make more money — QuikTrip, Chipotle, you name it.”

“We’ve lost our fair share in Sand Springs…Most recently, we had two exit to Tulsa Community College.”

She said the failure of education revenue ballot questions and bills in recent years also contributed to teachers feeling demoralised.

Durkee said Governor Mary Fallin signed a bill making a 2 per cent reduction for fiscal year 2018, resulting in a $113,000 reduction in that fiscal year for Sand Springs.

“I actually celebrated this,” she said. “That’s terrible that I would celebrate only that much of a cut.”

Durkee said healthcare costs for teachers have also risen, further reducing teachers’ take-home pay.

She also said districts still aren’t able to replace the classes that were lost and still need support for school bond issues as well as support for the progress already made to increase funding for education.

She praised the efforts of the community to help provide childcare and food for students during the walkout.

“We were able to provide food for our kids. You all know the dynamics of our district — we live in a district that’s about 65 per cent free and reduced lunch…so we knew there were going to be kids that were hungry, that didn’t have child care and so our community stepped up in a huge way,” Durkee said.

She said the district served 1,820 lunches and 420 breakfast meals during the eight-day walkout.

“We couldn’t have done that as a district by ourselves,” Durkee said.

She said a family whose child doesn’t go to school in the district donated a total of $5,000 to the district recently as well.

Source: Sand Springs Leader

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