Editor's note: This is the final story of a three part series.



By M. Scott Carter

American Staff Writer

In Moore, they're doing the impossible.

Instead of the usual, 'labor versus management' attitude, school administrators and the local teacher's union have forged an alliance; instead of strikes there are solutions, in place of layoffs, they have leadership.

In short, both sides get along; and they get along pretty well.

"It hasn't always been this good," says Jill Dudley, president of the Moore Association of Classroom Teachers. "But over the past six years, we've come together. The relationship between us and the school administration has changed. Right now things are very good."

Representing more than 70 percent of the district's classroom teachers, the Moore Association of Classroom Teachers -- an affiliate of the National Education Association -- acts as the teacher's bargaining agent with the school.

And while Dudley will acknowledge the disagreements with the school's administration in the past, she is just as quick to give credit to district superintendent Deborah Arato for the positive change in the relationship between the district and the union.

"Deborah has been very open and willing to listen," she says. "She started out as a teacher, so she can see things from a teachers point of view. When I became MCAT president she and I went to lunch and just talked; we developed a good relationship and it has continued from there."

It's the tone of the relationship, Dudley says, which has stayed consistent and focused on one thing: improving education.

"We both believe that it's all about the kids. They are the most important factor."

And in Moore, the kids keep coming.

With one of the hottest economies in the state, Moore's district grows in size by about a grade school each year. To say ahead, school administrators continually evaluate school populations and realign districts. In addition, the district has -- over the past few years -- built new schools to accommodate growth.

In fact, the district's newest grade school, Wayland Bonds Elementary -- is already at capacity. A third high school is expected to open in 2008.

"Over the past few years our growth has been incredible," Dudley says. "And it takes working together to manage that."

Parents, school officials and members of the teachers union all serve on the district's demographics committee. It's that committee which makes recommendations about populations alignment and whether or not a new school should be built. "It takes a great deal of work," Dudley says. "But the fact that we have a voice and we're listened makes the committee stronger."

Dudley -- who teaches algebra to junior high schools when she's not serving as association president -- says right now, both sides are concerned about the school's budget. "Like the administration, we are concerned by the budget stalemate."

As of Tuesday, state House and Senate leaders still had not reached an agreement on how to spend the state's $1.1 billion in growth revenue.

House leader Todd Hiett, R-Kellyville, wants about $500 million used to reduce taxes and a teacher pay increase of $2,400. Senate Pro Tempore Mike Morgan, D-Stillwater, wants a $3,000 across-the-board pay increase for teachers and a smaller tax reduction.

Both sides have been arguing since early spring.

"Our association stands with the Senate," Dudley says. "Sen. Morgan's pay increase would help all teachers and increase every teacher's salary by $3,000. The speaker's increase would give more to longer-serving teachers and less to newer teachers; some might get $200 and others $2,000."

Dudley said her organization has worked hard to convince lawmakers to support the Senate's plan. "We went to the Capitol and we walked the halls," she said. "We talked to everyone we could. But we're still waiting."

Ditto for Arato and her staff.

"We're trying to plan a budget right now," Arato said recently. "And it's difficult to do when you don't know what type of funding you're going to receive."

Should the stalemate continue much longer, Dudley said her association and school administrators, both, would have to consider their alternatives.

"A budget stalemate right up to the end of June would make things difficult," she said. "Not impossible; but difficult."

Dudley said once an agreement is reached it would take about a week to plug in the numbers and finalize a budget. "I wish more lawmakers would spend more time in our public schools," she said. "Then they would see how important these schools and their teachers are."

Plus, she said, they would see the unique relationship the association has with school leaders.

"Our goal is to work together," Dudley said. "And we're doing that."

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