Area educators generally oppose a state question that would allow ad valorem tax levies to be used for school districts' operational uses, such as personnel.

The Nov. 6 general election will include State Question 801, which says the measure would amend the Oklahoma Constitution to expand uses permitted for certain ad valorem tax levies.

Local district property tax revenue is placed in a building fund. Districts have bond issue elections to help improve funding for new buildings, building upgrades and technology. General fund operations, such as teacher and support salaries, are mostly funded through state allocations.

Muskogee Education Association President Mike Walcutt said the MEA has not taken a stance. However, he said he is definitely against the state question.

"If we take building funds for salary, how in the world are we going to maintain our facilities," Walcutt said. "That would be like taking the money budgeted to pay the electric bill and using it to buy a car. It won't be long, and you'll be in the dark."

Diane Walker, an MEA member, compared the proposal to "robbing Peter to pay Paul."

Fort Gibson Education Association members oppose the measure, said FGEA President Gregg Moydell.

Moydell called SQ 801 "another veiled attempt of the legislature to lesson the burden of funding public education from the state level."

He said SQ 801 would force local school districts to choose between maintaining facilities and paying teachers.

"Another negative aspect of SQ 801 is that there will be a larger disparity in the quality of education offered," he said. "This is because some schools have very large tax bases and could offer higher salaries compared to schools of similar size."

Moydell said that for every dollar a local district gets from property tax revenues, it gets a dollar less in state aid. 

"Keep in mind, this measure does not provide a new revenue source nor does it change the per-pupil funding currently in place; just the reallocation of monies that we receive from our current property taxes," Moydell said.  

Hilldale Association of Classroom Teachers President Stacy Miller said members are concerned about what could happen if 801 passes.

"We're concerned that it could shift the burden of funding teacher salaries to local school boards, forcing them to choose possibly between operations and building maintenance," Miller said.

Checotah Education Association President Emma Terry said the organization has not taken an official stand on the state question.

Fort Gibson, Hilldale and Muskogee school superintendents also oppose the state question. 

Muskogee Superintendent Dr. Jarod Mendenhall said the state question was never discussed nor vetted by school superintendents. 

"An unintended consequence would be the potential for school districts to rely more heavily on bond issues for facilities," he said. "Most smaller rural schools aren’t able to pass large bond issues to build facilities. It appears this question is trying to provide more flexibility, but I think this will just force local districts to rely more on locally generated tax dollars." 

Hilldale Superintendent Erik Puckett said the measure, if passed, could create disparity among school districts.

"It was not backed or supported by any education group," Puckett said. 

Fort Gibson Superintendent Scott Farmer said school districts already have opportunities to use their building fund for operational expenses.

"This measure would not grant us more flexibility than we already have," he said.

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