Just a few weeks ago, two Oklahoma superintendents wrote an opinion piece for The Daily Oklahoman supporting SB 1187, the School District Empowerment Bill. Since then, one superintendent has changed his mind.
El Reno Superintendent Craig McVay posted Wednesday in the Oklahoma Parents and Educators for Public Education Facebook group stating that he no longer believes SB 1187 is good for public education. He sent us the full version of his letter to Sen. Ron Justice, R-Chickasha, today:
I owe you my sincere apology. I have decided to oppose the passage of SB 1187. I truly believe a school board member in El Reno has a better knowledge and feel about our kids than someone from another part of the state. I truly believe that the madness associated with high stakes testing of young children should stop now. I truly believe that a teacher shortage exists because of a number of variables but mainly because of long hours and low pay. Teachers have told me for the past decade that teaching to a test does more harm than good. I believe them. I also believe in them. They are literally saving kid’s lives.
My support for local control and deregulation began in the summer of 2010 at a fund raiser for former Rep. Wes Hilliard. In casual conversation with several members of the OK House Democratic Caucus, I brought the subject up. I had just listened to education leaders Steven Crawford, Keith Ballard, Jeff Mills and Karl Springer tell school administrators that we should be asking legislators for the same rules and regulations that public charter schools were held. I heard “level the playing field” a dozen times. I asked why kids in Pontotoc County and Murray County were not valued the same as kids at KIPP or Harding Prep? I asked why they weren’t valued as much as Epic One on One Virtual Charter School? Those schools were free from unfunded, unnecessary mandates that were outdated and should have been eliminated decades ago. At that time it seemed that the Office of Accreditation at OSDE was an investigative unit trying to find a way to punish schools. I can’t begin to tell you the frustration of trying to find “highly qualified” teachers to teach in a rural setting. We began building a “HOUSSE” for experienced teachers just to make sure we were in compliance and our federal funding wouldn’t be lost. Rep. Danny Morgan of Prague helped me craft a framework of legislation to be carried further.
The question I should’ve been asking is, why can’t all schools be held to the same standards? The answer is very simple. They can’t. You can’t fit a tank in a shoe box. You can’t teach a turtle to fly and you can’t legislate schools to be the same. The education delivery requirements in El Reno are not the same as in Oklahoma City or Tulsa. They are not the same as Canute or Tushka. They are not the same as Deer Creek or Edmond and they aren’t the same anywhere. Each community has a unique set of issues.
That is why i supported SB 1187 initially. Eliminating background checks, the minimum salary schedules and contribution to OTRS were never part of my request. It seems almost ludicrous to imagine paying a teacher less. I told Education Week, in an interview in February about the Oklahoma teacher shortage crisis, “we’ve lost teacher candidates to Walmart”. I sought a vehicle to avoid the barriers to finding good people. This included finding a way to hire retired teachers back immediately at above the 15,000 maximum. All of the university Colleges of Education have been watching the number of prospective teachers fall dramatically over the last decade. We simply have to have the ability, locally, to find a way to solve that problem and not be penalized. Our teachers and students are being punished already. Class sizes are too large and going to get larger. I’m a proud graduate of UCO’s College of Education and Southwestern Oklahoma State University’s graduate program in Education Administration. I don’t want to do anything to hurt those schools or programs. I am just seeking ways to put prospective teachers where they are needed the most. Some qualified returning members of the military or displaced oilfield workers could help fill gaps if they somehow could wade through the process while learning pedagogy in an alternative manner. The current system of doing that is prohibitive and burdensome. It’s a system that hasn’t been allowed to evolve with the changes we are facing in a time of crisis.
SB 1187 is a bad idea. Not because some of it lacks merit. But because of the divisive, uncompromising makeup of political leadership. I have said on the radio and in other public venues that I believe SB 1187 was dead on arrival the day Senator Jolley assumed authorship of the bill. It then became worse when Speaker Hickman attached his name as the house author. The reason it was dead at that point is obvious. Most educators fear that both house and senate leadership are conspiring with out of state interests to kill public education in Oklahoma. They will fight tooth and nail against the far fringes of the right and left. The legislative goals that ALEC puts in front of legislators in Oklahoma have lead to a complete fear of this majority. Most Oklahoman’s value their independence. Including school teachers and administrators. It’s the Oklahoma way.
I am opposing SB 1187 for the reasons listed above. House and Senate leadership, as well as Governor Fallen, have lost my trust. They appear to have succeeded in dividing our state in so many ways. Not just Republicans versus Democrats. Not only the haves and the have nots, they have divided us East vs. West, Rural vs. Urban and Suburban, Senate vs. House and local vs. state and federal. It is in this atmosphere of complete division that I can no longer support the measure.
You have always been straight with me. We have always been able to talk to each other and I hope that continues throughout the remainder of your time in office and in the future. Please feel free to share this email with any of your colleagues. Once again I apologize for asking for your support for SB 1187. I was simply wrong.
Craig McVay, Superintendent, El Reno Public Schools
We reread the original article published on the Oklahoman’s online news site, NewsOK.com, and we see from McVay’s statements that what he was seeking appears to not be entirely in line with what is now part of that legislation. That said, the idea of adjunct teachers sounds scary to us as both professional educators and parents of children in our public school system.
Here are some of McVay’s words from earlier this month:
The flexibilities included in SB 1187 trigger, for us, excitement at the potential of eliminating some of the restrictions that prevent growth and change. For example, freedom from the binds of the teacher salary schedule would give us the ability to increase our teacher pay, thereby offering competitive salaries. The bill would also allow us the flexibility to hire adjunct teachers, especially in those subjects for which, currently, teachers are often difficult to find. SB 1187 would also allow us to deviate from Oklahoma’s Teacher and Leadership Effectiveness system and employ our own methods of evaluation, since we do, after all, know our teachers better than anyone else.