Omaha Public Schools teachers are exhausted after teaching through the pandemic and needed more incentive to teach through two months of summer school, according to the union representing the district’s teachers.
Robert Miller, president of the Omaha Education Association, said Thursday that his association repeatedly tried to get OPS to raise the summer school rate of pay up from $28.50, which is less than what some teachers are regularly paid.
“They’ve gone above and beyond what anyone has done in the past,” Miller said of teachers this year. “In order to feel valued, the district needed to step up and offer some incentive.”
Without naming a specific number, Miller said the association’s proposed increases were reasonable and were within what the district could afford.
This week OPS announced scaled-back summer school plans for elementary students, citing “staffing challenges” as the reason for the change. The district had opened up summer school, or Next Level Learning, to all students because of disruptions caused by the pandemic.
Next Level Learning will now conclude on June 30 for about 6,440 elementary school students.
In July, Next Level Learning for elementary students will consolidate to 12 sites and serve approximately 2,160 students. The students will be selected based on need as determined by academic data, according to OPS.
Approximately 8,600 elementary students had signed up to attend summer school in June and July. All of the elementary students will be allowed to attend in June.
Next Level Learning for middle and high school students will continue as planned in June and July.
“Our district aspired to offer — and worked diligently to deliver — in-person learning opportunities for any student who wished to participate this summer,” the district said in a statement posted to its website.
OPS teachers started the 2020-21 school year by teaching remotely. In October, students were back in school part time, and in February, the district offered full in-person learning. Often, this meant teachers had to simultaneously teach students in their classroom and remote students.
Miller said many teachers signed up to teach in June but felt like July was just too much and they needed a break before returning to the classroom in August.
“You can’t fill another person’s cup if you have an empty bucket,” Miller said.
When the plans for this summer were first released, some school board members questioned if teachers would want to sign up to teach this summer after teaching through two school years interrupted by the pandemic.
Two school board members asked whether pay for teachers could be increased for working summer school. Board Vice President Jane Erdenberger encouraged district officials to negotiate or give a signing bonus because she said OPS owed it to the teachers and it would help staff the huge undertaking with people who are happy to be there.
Charles Wakefield, the district’s chief human resources officer, said at the time that pay for summer school is a negotiated item in teachers’ contracts and that the district would have to negotiate with the OEA.
Miller said that after those conversations, he repeatedly tried to amend teachers’ contracts, but was unsuccessful.
On Wednesday, OPS spokeswoman Bridget Blevins said there was no change in pay for Next Level Learning this summer.
She said the district did provide additional planning time for teachers this summer “to account for the work that goes into implementing an updated summer curriculum that covers seven weeks instead of the traditional three to four weeks.”