Some school bus operations provided busing or meals to students and educators during recent teacher walkouts. Meanwhile, district officials elsewhere reviewed what the strikes could mean to transportation employees; and state legislators secured additional pupil transportation funding.
Earlier this month, teachers in Oklahoma walked out of classes and gathered at the state capitol in Oklahoma City for nine days, until additional education funding was passed. During that time, Oklahoma City Public Schools sent school buses loaded with food to over 100 designated pick-up points. Meals were provided for free to students 18 or under, and no ID was required.
Child nutrition workers and school bus drivers prepared and distributed lunches from school locations throughout the Mustang School District.
Tulsa Public Schools asked “all employees on 12-month contracts, school support and administrative employees, and district support employees,” which presumably included school bus drivers, to come in to work during the first week of the walk-out to fulfill contractual obligations. Normally, situations like this would be treated like snow days, and those employees would not work or be paid, a district official explained in a school board meeting, but this “unforeseen and unprecedented” situation was handled differently.
“We kept a large majority of our employees—53 percent of them—employed during the walk-out, doing work that needed to be done,” he added.
Some school buses from Salk Elementary, a Tulsa district school, transported teachers to the capitol for the walkout.
For districts holding SAT testing or elementary testing, like Tulsa, Moore Public Schools, Broken Arrow Public Schools and Jenks Public Schools, regular school bus routes ran only for the students who were testing.
Throughout the state, churches, community centers and education centers were open, and provided food and childcare. Several districts distributed meals to students from school sites.
Kentucky teachers spent several days at the beginning and the middle of the month in the state capitol of Frankfurt, protesting education cuts that would result from Gov. Matt Bevin’s vetoes on budget bill HB 200 and revenue bill HB 366.
Districts including Bullitt County Public Schools, Boone County Schools and Fayette County Public Schools announced closures due to teachers traveling to Frankfurt. Pictures taken there show teachers dressed in “Red for Ed” with school buses that provided transportation standing behind them.
The state legislature ended up overriding the governor’s vetoes on April 13. It also fulfilled the Kentucky Education Association’s goal of avoiding cuts to and increasing funding for the Support Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK) formula, which provides funds for pupil transportation.
“The compromise budget plan increases per pupil SEEK funding to $4,000 per student, the highest dollar amount that has ever been appropriated,” the KEA rejoiced. It added that proposed cuts to the SEEK transportation funding “would have had an immediate, seriously detrimental effect on local district budgets.”
The Arizona Education Association led two capitol visit days last month in support of school staff pay raises. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey first approved a one-time raise, then proposed a nine percent teacher wage increase and an overall 20 percent wage increase by 2020.
Arizona Educators United expressed disapproval of this plan, because it does not bring education funding levels back up to pre-Recession rates, include a permanent revenue stream to fund the raise, or include a pay raise for support staff, such as school bus drivers. As of Thursday, district employees, including bus drivers, were being encouraged to vote on whether to conduct a walkout.
Mesa Public Schools is the state’s largest district. Superintendent Michael Cowan acknowledged the importance of public employees like cafeteria staff, instructional aides and school bus drivers, but encouraged them to carefully consider the repercussions of such a move.
In the event of a walkout, he said, short-term and hourly employees like bus drivers would not work or be compensated. Transportation would still run to private schools, and any campuses unaffected by the walkout. After-school activities, sports, prom, and field trips, would be affected or canceled.
Tucson Unified School District said that if a school does not close but has limited staff, school buses would still run. It added that instructional services may be limited, but meals will still be served.
“We will only open schools if we have adequate staff to address the safety of students,” the district stated.
The Colorado Education Association spoke about a wave of growing discontent among teachers in the state in response to low wages, school underfunding and cuts to pensions. They called for school employees and students to wear “Red for Ed” every Tuesday, and circulated a pledge of support, but stopped short of calling for a walkout.
Educators did gather on April 16 for a “Day of Action” at the Capitol building in Denver. Over 70 percent of Englewood Schools staff called out of work, so classes were canceled for the day.
Jeffco Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Jason E. Glass sent families a letter informing them that school would be closed on April 26, due to many school employees planning to petition for increased wages at the capitol. “This remains a work day for all Jeffco Public Schools staff members; leave time must be appropriately used if employees are not at work that day,” he cautioned.
Denver Public School teachers will walk out on April 27, according to the Denver Classroom Teachers Association.
According to the National Education Association’s ranking of starting pay for teachers in all 50 states and D.C. during the 2016-2017 school year, Kentucky is near the middle of the scale, but Oklahoma is ranked 49 out of 51, ahead of only Mississippi and South Dakota. Colorado is ranked 46th, and Arizona is 43rd.
Teachers in W.Va., which is 48th, recently went on strike until they received a five percent pay raise.