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The Oklahoma City Public Schools Board of Education met virtually Monday, Oct. 5, to discuss the plan to bring back pre-K through kindergarteners as well as approve a pay raise for some eligible certified staff as well as some support staff. (Megan Prather)

At Monday night’s Oklahoma City Public Schools Board of Education meeting, members discussed their plan to bring pre-K and kindergarteners back to in-person learning.

OKCPS intends on having pre-K and kindergarten students return to the classroom on an A/B schedule Monday, Oct. 19, if Oklahoma County COVID-19 rates can remain in Orange Level One — meaning fewer than 25 cases per 100,000 people — for two consecutive weeks. However, if county cases return to Orange Level Two, those students will not return until Monday, Nov. 9, along with first through 12th grade classes.

OKCPS superintendent Sean McDaniel reminded the board at Monday’s meeting that Oklahoma County had returned to Orange Level One on Oct. 2.             

A letter from McDaniel sent to the OKCPS community that Friday afternoon said the district would begin refraining from making any major changes to schedules, activities and operations unless COVID numbers put the county at the Red Alert level. The district was previously suspending in-person classes and canceling all athletics and extracurriculars if county COVID numbers reached Orange Level Two.

Board member Charles Henry expressed concerns during the meeting regarding the large jump in COVID numbers between Orange Level Two and the Red Alert level and whether or not the district would consider reevaluating restrictions if the county maintains numbers close to Red Alert level threshold.

Red Alert will be met if the county shows COVID rates of more than 50 cases per 100,000 people.

“Are we just going to do a hardline unless it reaches the threshold of 50?” Henry asked during the meeting.

McDaniel said the district is looking at multiple data points, including spikes in COVID cases, and that 50 is not a firm number.

“If we see a spike or a trend that we don’t like, even though it’s short of 50, we would still regroup and talk about whether or not the best course of action would be to suspend,” McDaniel replied. 

Henry also questioned the process of OKCPS notifying parents, students and teachers if they’re exposed to COVID-19.

“We would not tell them what particular student was positive. We would not share that information,” said assistant superintendent of human resources Jason Brown. “What we would share with parents is that a person in your class has tested positive, and for that reason you’ll need to quarantine. We would not share the individual’s information whether it be adult or student.”

‘We feel incredibly fortunate to have negotiated a step increase and raise’

The board also unanimously approved a 2020-2021 salary increase for eligible certified staff, including teachers, nurses, counselors, speech and language pathologists and library media specialists, on a step basis after negotiations with the Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers Local 2309, AFL CIO.

President of the Oklahoma City AFT Local 2309 Torie Shoecraft said negotiations with OKCPS usually begin as early as May and end before the school year begins, but owing to current events, this compensation negotiation didn’t end until September.

“We took the tentative agreement to our membership on Sept. 24 and it passed by 93 percent,” Shoecraft said. “After our membership voted, it went to the OKCPS School Board, who voted to approve it.”

The motion read after the board returned from executive session announced for all eligible certified staff an increase in starting pay from $41,000 to $41,500 as well as an increase in scheduled salary step 25 from $61,135 to $61,735. Additional terms related to teacher transfers, assignments and evaluations were also agreed upon.

“Oklahoma City Public Schools teachers are paid well over the state minimum teacher salary, so because of that OKCPS teachers are not guaranteed a raise each year,” Shoecraft said. “We feel incredibly fortunate to have negotiated a step increase and raise, especially as we are in the midst of a pandemic. Oklahoma teachers have been undervalued and underfunded for far too long and this, a raise and job security, is a step in the right direction.”

Shoecraft said another big win for teachers was raising the extra duty stipend from $17.50 an hour to $28 an hour.

“Most years, we have had a raise, even if it only equals out to be an increase of $20 each pay period, but it was the 2018-2019 year where OKCPS saw a significant increase, average of about $6000, added to each step,” Shoecraft said.

The board also approved a $0.35 per hour increase in pay for most eligible support employees and targeted increases for bus drivers, site substitutes and skilled laborers after negotiations with the Oklahoma City Federation of Classified Employees AFT Local 4574.

(Correction: This article was updated at 10 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 6, to correct reference to Torie Shoecraft’s name. NonDoc regrets the error.)