Tulsa, Union and other Oklahoma public school teacher shortages could be result of low pay

Okla. schools say low pay causing teacher shortage

TULSA - Teachers often say you have to love teaching to do the job, but some administrators say it seems the job is getting harder to do.

Fourth grade Tulsa Public Schools teacher Tonya Colburn started out the school year with 32 students -- that's 50 percent more than the state guideline of 20.

"Just to take a bathroom break it would take twice as long as it would with a smaller class," said Colburn, a teacher at Key Elementary.

 TPS says it was all because they didn't have anyone to fill a teacher opening at first.

"When we're not fully staffed of course it puts that extra load on other teachers that have to pick up the slack and carry on because we have school going on whether we have staff in place or not," said Bob Howard, the principal of Key Elementary.

Howard says for the first time he's worried that he won't fill upcoming teacher openings at semester.

As of Dec. 18, TPS has 40 educator openings, in the middle of the school year, 26 are teaching jobs.

How can the district not fill the jobs?

Howard says it's all about the money.

"One of the biggest challenges we face in attracting qualified applicants is the pay," he said.

And, he's not alone.

At Union Public Schools the deputy superintendent is dealing with the same problem. There are 11 openings in that district.

"If you want to maintain and retain quality people in this profession then you're going to have to continue to pay them more than what we're paying them," said Kirt Hartzler.

The 2NEWS Investigators found at least 58 teacher openings in Green Country districts.

Howard says pay is definitely a factor, especially when you take a look at pay in the region.

"I had a teacher that I hired at the beginning of the year, started out the year, worked for a week and a half, told me that she was resigning and going to another state that was offering her $20,000 more than what we were able to pay her here," Howard said. "So how can you compete with that?"

The 2NEWS Investigators crunched the numbers and found that you can travel two hours east to northwest Arkansas and starting teacher's salary is $44,000. Going south to Plano, Texas, teachers make almost $47,000, while some teachers in our area start at $32,000, that's a $12,000 to a $15,000 difference.

So we took what the 2NEWS Investigators uncovered to State Senator Gary Stanislawski, who's been working on education funding for the upcoming session.

"This is an issue we need to address this year. Funding is an issue not just for salaries, but funding is an issue for education in general," said Stanislawski.

But he didn't realize just how bad the salary issue was affecting area districts, until the 2NEWS Investigators told him.

"I appreciate Channel 2 bringing that information because I had no idea our local districts had that many positions open, that is causing classroom sizes to increase just because of that, and so I would definitely say Channel 2 brought that to my attention, and I would hope would make a difference in our state," said Stanislawski.

Stanislawski plans to discuss the issue with the appropriations chairman. For Colburn that is progress.

"My hope is that the class sizes will get smaller. People will want to become teachers again because they know it's not going to take money out of their pocket books," she said.

A few months after school started the students were in a new classroom, with a teacher hired after school started. Colburn now a much smaller class.

Stanislawski is also working on legislation that would add five days to the school year, which would give teachers another week of pay.

Plus, he would like to consolidate some administrative jobs in smaller districts, and use the savings to put back into the classroom.

The 2NEWS Investigators contacted districts in our area and here are the openings we found:

  • Bartlesville: 3 teacher openings
  • Bixby: 2 openings
  • Bristow: 0 openings
  • Broken Arrow: 5 openings listed on its website
  • Catoosa: 0 openings
  • Checotah: 0 openings
  • Claremore: 1 opening for Spanish teacher
  • Collinsville: 0 openings
  • Coffeyville: 1 art teacher opening
  • Fort Gibson: 0 openings
  • Glenpool: 0 openings
  • Jenks: 0 openings
  • Kiefer: 0 openings
  • Locust Grove: 1 pre-K opening
  • Mannford: 0 openings
  • McAlester: 0 openings
  • Muskogee: 5 openings, but they are new positions thanks to newly allocated federal funds. Still, a spokesperson for the district says it is difficult to find teachers.
  • Nowata: 0 openings
  • Okmulgee: 1 opening
  • Oolagah-Talala: 0 openings
  • Pryor: 0 openings
  • Sand Springs: 2 assistant superintendent positions, but already have candidates for the job. A spokesperson says teacher pay along with added expectations is definitely having an affect on openings.
  • Sapulpa: 2 openings
  • Sperry: 0 openings
  • Stillwell: 1 special ed opening, already have candidates for the position
  • Tulsa Public Schools: 26 teacher openings
  • Union: 11 openings
  • Vinta: 0 openings
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