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Morning Bell: Teacher raise, school funding proposal expected today

Good Thursday morning. I think it's safe to say we are officially on "strike watch." Less than 24 hours after the Oklahoma Education Association set April 23 as a deadline for the Legislature to act on teacher pay or schools would shut down, the state's largest union moved the date up to April 2

Why the change? Well, there was a lot of backlash from teachers on social media that April 23 was too long to wait. 

The OEA even apologized for its original Facebook post calling for an April 23 walkout.  

"The communication coming out of OEA has not been clear and for that I am sorry," said OEA president Alicia Priest in a video message posted on Wednesday. 

What's next? The OEA will hold a press conference today at 1 p.m. (NewsOK will stream it live) to discuss its proposal for a $10,000 teacher pay raise and increased school funding. 

State schools superintendent Joy Hofmeister said the call for a strike was understandable. I spoke with her yesterday and she said teachers feel like they are out of options. 

"Teachers and school leaders have been waiting for a plan to pass, and there have been several plans that have been put forward but their hopes have been dashed. I think the options now are limited," Hofmeister said. 

For years, Oklahoma teachers have rallied at the Capitol, run for state office and campaigned for a statewide sales tax increase, all in the hopes of reversing the state's status as the lowest paying for public school teachers. 

As those actions have come up short and teachers remain without a pay raise in nearly a decade, educators and union leaders are planning to walk off the job and close schools within a few weeks.

Students walkout over gun violence 

About 200 students walked out of John Marshall Mid-High School on Wednesday morning to raise gun violence awareness, reports The Oklahoman's Tim Willert.

Oklahoma City Public Schools backed the demonstration, organized by eighth-graders Jaime Richardson and Paisley Lonebear in response to last month's deadly school shooting in Florida.

"We respect and support the right of our students to advocate for causes that are important to them," acting Superintendent Rebecca Kaye said in a letter to families posted on the district's website Tuesday night.

In Tulsa, students at Nathan Hale Junior High School also staged a walkout in response to violence and in solidarity with students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Teacher of the Year running for office 

Oklahoma Teacher of the Year Jon Hazell announced on Facebook he is running for the state Senate. "I have indeed decided to run for the senate seat of our local district, which will be coming open in the next election. There will be an official press release and announcement in the near future," Hazell posted. 

Bixby students plead not guilty

Four former Bixby football players charged with second-degree rape by instrumentation have pleaded not guilty in the case that arose after a teammate alleged an assault during a team event.

The four defendants — Colten Cable, 17; Samuel Isaiah Lakin, 17; William Henry Thomas, 17; and Joe Wood, 16 — have been free on a $25,000 bond since they were booked last week into Tulsa Jail. (More at the Tulsa World)

Taihina board discusses state Dept of Ed letter

A letter from Oklahoma State Department of Education Executive Director of Accreditation Jason Pittenger dated Feb. 16 states Taihina Public Schools paid an unauthorized individual as principal at the junior high and high school, questioned the school board’s expenditure practices, and warned that “under no circumstances should information relating to any district expenditure be withheld.”

The Talihina Public Schools Board of Education briefly discussed and took no action regarding the letter during Monday’s regular meeting that attracted so many concerned citizens the board decided to move the meeting into the school’s cafeteria, reports the McAlester News-Capital.

ICYMI - Schools see an increase in threats

In the weeks since a shooting killed 17 at a Florida high school, Oklahoma has seen over a dozen arrests connected to school threats and the state's school safety tip line has seen a spike in tips.

In an analysis of law enforcement records and news reports, The Oklahoman has found at least 14 arrests made across the state since Feb. 14, the day of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

That does it for today's Morning Bell. Have a great Thursday. 

Ben Felder

Ben Felder is an investigative reporter for The Oklahoman. A native of Kansas City, Ben has lived in Oklahoma City since 2010 and covered politics, education and local government for the Oklahoma Gazette before joining The Oklahoman in 2016.... Read more ›