Western Heights teachers union
The Western Heights Board of Education holds a regular meeting on Monday, Oct. 11, 2021. (Megan Prather)

The Western Heights Board of Education ratified agreements this evening with the Western Heights Education Association that had been at an impasse for two years. The arrangement will provide signing bonuses for new teachers and salary increases for certified and support staff.

“It’s a positive step forward. It’s one step at a time around here, and that was a big one,” Monty Guthrie, Western Heights’ interim superintendent, told NonDoc after Monday’s meeting. “The retention stipends for certified (personnel) will be $2,000 that they’ll get in November. For support (personnel), it will be $1,000, and for new hires they’ll get a $500 sign-on bonus. They’ll also get to go to the step they should be on on the pay scale. It’s a good day.”

Oklahoma Education Association organizer Bruce Treadaway said contract negotiations had been bogged down by the district’s controversial former Superintendent Mannix Barnes.

“They had been going by the contract of two years ago for the last two years. They couldn’t get anything from the former superintendent as far as any kind of offer or any kind of settlement,” Treadaway said. “It got to the point where he didn’t want to talk to them.”

Treadaway said when the State Department of Education took control of the troubled district in July, Guthrie made settling the impasse with both certified teachers and support professionals among his first goals. However, during the board’s September meeting, members tabled that decision and other issues.

Board member Briana Flatley called the negotiations approval a positive step.

“I’m just glad that we’re finally doing what we need to for our educators,” Flatley said. “It was something I felt deeply that we need, for not only our support staff, but our educators and our new educators in the district.”

‘The Western Heights community has awakened’

The boundaries of Western Heights Board of Education districts were updated in August 2011. (Western Heights)

Board members also approved a resolution directing the Oklahoma County Election Board to hold the regularly-scheduled election for Western Heights Board of Education Seat 2 in February and April 2022. The seat is currently held by Rosalind Cravens, who last ran unopposed in 2017.

Community members have expressed replacing current board members at each possible election as a priority.

“It’s no secret that we’ve been wanting the other four board members, aside from the one we just elected, to resign,” community member Amy Boone said prior to the meeting. “The goal right now is to try to get a different majority on the board. They’re opening up Seat 2 tonight, which is the neighborhoods north and east of (Oklahoma City Community College) and the Westmoor Mobile Home Park. Right now, we’re trying to find someone in those neighborhoods who wants to run for school board.”

Boone said she understands the hesitancy some might have to run for the seat when the district has been through so much turbulence in recent years.

“If we’re able to get a different majority on there, we can start voting for some things that are in our educators’, kids’ and schools’ best interest,” Boone said.

In April, the district’s most recent school board election saw Flatley, an OEA organizer, oust incumbent Darrell Raper from Seat 1 by receiving 64.4 percent of the vote. A total of 509 ballots were cast in the April election, an uptick from the 67 ballots cast during the 2019 school board election where Seat 4 incumbent Robert Sharp maintained his position against challenger Brianna Dodd.

“The Western Heights community has awakened, and I think they’ve awakened to the point that board elections out there from now on are going to have much more participation from the community than there has been,” Treadaway said. “Forty or 50 people should not be electing school board members.”

(Update: This article was updated at 7:20 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 12.)