MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

August 27, 2013

School execs frown on Barresi's call for pay raises

Area school administrators say they would have to pay the bill for State Superintendent Janet Barresi’s call for a $2,000 teacher pay raise.

“I’m on board with a raise, but schools that are $250 million behind what they were in 2008 cannot afford to do that,” Oktaha Superintendent Jerry Needham said.

Barresi, who faces re-election in 2014, called for the pay raises while speaking Saturday to the Oklahoma State School Boards Association. She said the raises could be funded through surplus funds without increasing state appropriations.

District administrators, however, say those surplus funds would be whatever each district has, not what the state has.

In a media release put out by the Friends of Janet Barresi, the state superintendent said the pay raise would not require increased state appropriations. It would be funded by tapping surplus funds and “reducing schools’ administrative overhead,” she said.

“With a $2,000 raise, we will see Oklahoma teacher pay jump past numerous states, including our neighbor to the east, Arkansas, and within just a few dollars of Missouri. We’ll also cut by more than half our gap with Texas.”

The media release said Barresi called on district administrators to reset priorities. Her plan calls for moving less than 10 percent of schools’ carry-over money to teacher pay and asks individual districts to redirect 2 percent of administrative overhead funds to teacher pay. The media release said the carry-over money totals more than $700 million statewide.

Needham said most Oklahoma districts would be able to handle the raise for one year.

“But we’re going to have to pay it every year,” he said. “Then we’ve got to pay Social Security, pay the matching Social Security.”

He said the raise would cut into funds for technology, transportation and other expenses.

Not all public schools have abundant carry-over, said Muskogee Public Schools’ chief financial officer, John Little.

“I’d like to call Tulsa Public Schools and have Tulsa send us $2 million,” Little said. “That’s what her plan will require.”

Little said the pay raise would cost Muskogee $1.3 million.

Muskogee already pays teachers better than the state base, Little said. Teachers start at $31,930, and the top pay is $60,386, he said. The minimum state starting pay for a beginning teacher is $31,600, according to the Oklahoma Department of Education website.

The president of the Muskogee Education Association, Mike Walcutt, said Barresi was “grandstanding.”

He said districts must use the carry-over money to get through the start of each year.

Fort Gibson School Superintendent Derald Glover said, “She feels we can take this out of our carry-over.”

He said giving each of the district’s 140 teachers a $2,000 pay raise would cost at least $280,000 a year and eat into its $1.4 million carry-over.

“We use our carry-over to make payroll until we get a cash flow,” Glover said. “The large property tax collection we operate on arrives in January. We get state money each month but not enough.”

With the $2,000 pay  raise, plus teacher retirement and other tax burdens, Fort Gibson’s carry-over would be “gone in four years,” he said.

Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or cspaulding@muskogeephoenix.com.

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