NORMAN — State Superintendent Janet Barresi, in a campaign speech recently, called for a $2,000 across-the-board pay increase for teachers. She delivered this speech during a candidate forum, and her remarks have received much media attention.
Increasing teacher salaries has broad support from district leaders, boards of education and many school patrons from districts across our state.
However, Barresi’s proposal is not based on the Legislature and governor appropriating one cent more to fund the increase.
Instead, she contends that school budgets already have adequate funding to pay for it and that administrators and elected board members “can’t argue that Oklahoma schools don’t have enough money on hand” to pay for an increase she herself estimates will cost at least $100 million.
However, I will make that very argument and do so with facts rather than rhetoric.
Oklahoma schools are receiving $200 million less in funding than they did in 2008 and yet are educating tens of thousands more students. In Norman alone, we are educating 1,500 more students.
In fact, if NPS had been given the same per pupil funding this school year that it received just three years ago, we would have $5.9 million more in state funding — more than enough to give teachers a sizable raise.
During the past three years, the NPS Board of Education has committed an additional $3.4 million to salary increases for teachers.
But due to state funding cuts, the district’s fund balance has declined from a high of 12.9 percent when we had stimulus funding to now a projected 6.5 percent. This equates to approximately one month of operational expense.
That is why it is nothing short of ridiculous that the state’s top school official would tell the public their schools should drain the fund balances they draw on to open and operate schools the first part of the school year and for unforeseen expenses — and to do so for a $100 million annually recurring pay increase.
If NPS were to do what the state superintendent proposes, it would result in an additional reduction in our fund balance of $1.6 million and put our student services at risk.
A one-size-fits-all approach does not work for school improvement, and it certainly does not work for school finance.
District leaders and board members continue to support teachers with the limited resources available, and now it’s time for state elected leaders to do the same through fiscally sound action.
Dr. Joe Siano is superintendent of Norman Public Schools.