Oklahoma’s low teacher pay isn’t a secret. And, for surrounding states, it’s an opportunity.
One Texas school district is taking its sales pitch directly to Oklahoma teachers with a billboard campaign beckoning them south to greener pastures.
The billboards, paid for by the Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD), were unveiled Monday in Norman, Tulsa, Stillwater and Oklahoma City with the following message: “Your future is in a Fort Worth classroom — teacher starting salary $52,000.”
FWISD spokesperson Clint Bond said his district has a workforce of over 11,000 employees and hires anywhere from 500 to 700 teachers a year.
He said the state’s annual student population growth — about 86,000 students — effectively adds the equivalent of a district of FWISD’s size every year. They’re looking for good teachers all the time, and he said Oklahoma has a lot of them.
“I would not be genuine if I didn’t say that, in watching the news, we certainly were impressed with the passion and commitment of Oklahoma teachers for their students,” he said.
Bond said it’s not the first time FWISD has cast its net beyond the confines of the Lone Star State. He said the billboard campaign is a means to tap into a pool of quality teachers and show that FWISD has something to offer them.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt in anybody’s mind that those teachers are passionate about their students,” he said. “If they were thinking about moving to somewhere like Fort Worth, I know they would think long and hard about that. But because those teachers did have that commitment, we have a similar commitment in our school district, and we’re looking for those people.
“We’re just looking to make sure that the candidates we have at FWISD are the best possible teachers that are available. In our campaign in Oklahoma, we’re suggesting to teachers, if they have thoughts of taking their career somewhere else, that we have an opportunity that you may want to consider.”
Norman Public Schools Superintendent Nick Migliorino said competition from neighboring states for Oklahoma’s brightest teachers isn’t new. Texas has drawn many quality teachers away from Oklahoma, like 2016 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year Shawn Sheehan, whose monthly take-home pay went from $1,847 in Norman to $3,527 in Lewisville, Texas.
The billboard, Migliorino said, is just the next step.
“Really, this is a story that we’ve been sharing with people for a long time,” he said. “We’ve been dealing with this for many years now. When we go to job fairs, the bordering states, not just Texas, have booths there, and they’re giving out large signing bonuses and starting salaries that we can’t even touch with decades of experience.”
Migliorino said despite the recently approved $447 million revenue package to fund teacher raises, the billboards are an affirmation that education funding is still an issue. Public education also faces competition from within the state through entities like EPIC Charter Schools, which boasts an average salary of $64,000.
He said Oklahoma still has a way to go before it is truly competitive in the marketplace for teachers — even its own.
“We have made incredible strides as a state over this last legislative session, but there’s much more to do,” Migliorino said. “We have great talent in this state when it comes to educators and teachers. Our universities produces some of the best in the nation; that’s why they’re recruited everywhere. But we want to keep them here.”
Migliorino said it’s the same story each year, and until get the legislature supports education with permanent funding, Oklahoma school districts will continue to be at a disadvantage.
“It’s a little bit better, but we’re still in a tough spot,” he said.