Oklahoma teachers rally for smaller class sizes, protected rights

About 1,000 members of the Oklahoma Education Association met Tuesday on the south steps of the state Capitol to express their concerns for public education.
BY MEGAN ROLLAND mrolland@opubco.com Published: March 16, 2011

Educators rallying at the state Capitol on Tuesday told lawmakers they feel overworked because of overcrowded classrooms, underpaid in both salary and retirement, and under attack from politicians looking to weaken laws protecting tenured teachers.

“It's hard not to take things personal,” Matt Holtzen, a U.S. history teacher at Enid High School, said. “I think that the climate is teachers are under attack.”

Holtzen was one of roughly 1,000 members of the Oklahoma Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, who spent a day of their spring break gathered on the south steps of the Capitol before heading in to talk to legislators.

High on the list of many teachers was opposition to two bills quickly moving through the House and Senate that would do away with a teacher's right to appeal a termination decision by a local school board, known as “trial de novo.”

“I'm for protecting teachers' rights,” Holtzen said, moments before talking to Sen. Patrick Anderson. “That's a very scary thing to have employment that's at the whim of the school board. It's a political body.”

Anderson, R-Enid, listened to the concerns of several active and retired teachers from his district before returning to session for a vote.

“I support the end of trial de novo,” Anderson said in an interview after OEA members had left. “I think it's important for school boards to have the ability to fire ineffective teachers.”

Class size concerns

Growing class sizes was at the top of many teachers list of concerns — a symptom of staffing reductions at cash-strapped schools and growing populations.

“It's very hard to help the individual student,” said Leah Esker, who has 30 students in her largest English class at Whittier Middle School in Norman. “These are the biggest classes I've ever had in seven years of teaching. Everybody is feeling the pressure.”