A collaboration between Tulsa, Jenks, Union Public Schools and Tulsa Technology Center has produced a proposal known as “Teach. Live. T-Town.” This proposal was presented to the Tulsa City Council as a part of Vision 2025. Vision 2025 was a series of proposals in 2003 to raise the county’s tax rate in order to fund city improvements or create economic development incentives. The goal of this proposal is to attract and retain new teachers for Tulsa area schools.
“Teach. Live. T-Town.” is similar to programs in other cities facing the same teacher shortages. The proposal would give prospective teachers incentives for renting or buying a house in the Tulsa area, under the condition that they then work for the school district.
Talia Shaull, the human capital officer for Tulsa Public Schools (TPS), said this idea came about because Tulsa is in the middle of a “climate in which we need to think about alternative scenarios” for attracting teachers. Raising salaries is not currently an option for the school district. Shaull and other members of TPS have expressed hope that Oklahoma might fix its teacher shortage by changing its education policies.
When it was initially proposed, Tulsa City Councilperson Anna America says there was concern over the city interfering with school districts. “But,” she said, “we’ve seen that our schools being successful has a huge impact on our neighborhood and on our city being successful.”
Since its proposal, the program has also evolved. Currently, the city is discussing the renovation of an existing building downtown into micro-lofts for prospective teachers. Other ideas, such as regular teacher incentives not tied to property and rental, are also being discussed. The city’s legal team is looking at the feasibility of the proposal under current state law and state statute, which will help determine what occurs.
The micro-lofts idea, according to America, would create an “exciting and neat place to live.” These would be micro-units, with a shared common space and lounge for community events. Furthermore, America believes that even if creating micro-lofts is a legal issue for the city, the city council may try to pass the project on to philanthropic organizations.
“At the center,” Shaull says, “is partnering with Tulsa, Jenks and Union public schools to offer some type of solution and retain and train teachers.”
So far, the public’s response has been positive, according to Shaull. Most people are supportive of implementing an effort to recruit teachers. “Some people’s first reaction is that the city and schools are supposed to be separate,” America says, but once the idea is further explained, most believe in the need to attract good teachers.
Oklahoma has faced trouble attracting teachers, and Tulsa reflects this struggle. In 2012-2013, the state was ranked 49th in terms of annual teacher salary. Due to the city’s lack of competitive salaries for teachers, proposals like this one focus on support and mentoring available to new teachers. America hopes that the school districts will eventually no longer need incentives, saying that “the goal should be in any nonprofit to work yourself out of a job. Whatever need you’re meeting, you hope to change the circumstances enough that you’re no longer needed.”
Currently, Tulsa Public Schools offers a one-time stipend as an incentive for hard-to-staff areas like math and special education. The “Teach. Live. T-Town.” idea will be reviewed by the City Council in the coming weeks. A decision will come by February 4.