Rep. Pat Ownbey, R-Ardmore, revealed the state’s newest plan to bypass legislative gridlock to implement a significant increase in the rate of pay for the state’s teachers and avoid the pending teachers’ strike.
Ownbey spoke during the Ardmore Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Luncheon Friday at the Ardmore Convention Center.
The proposed plan would use previously unavailable funds that would become available after reforms to the state’s existing tax code, among other avenues. Those reforms include changes to the way the state taxes capital gains and allows deductions for charitable donations.
“This plan would raise the top minimum salary for teachers with 20 or more years of experience to $60,000,” Ownbey said. “It offers the state’s teachers the largest pay increase in history over the course of six years, or even faster.”
Ownbey said the first two years of the plan would be funded by reforms that can currently be passed by the Legislature with a simple 51 vote majority, while the remaining four years, or four steps of the plan would rely on most of the revenue sources currently being debated.
“All teacher pay rates would increase by 5 percent within the 2018-19 school year,” Ownbey said. “The plan would bring the Oklahoma teacher pay average with benefits to $57,295, today’s state average is $45,245.”
Ownbey said the plan would not include raises for support staff or additional funding for curriculum, supplies or other requests included in the request from the Oklahoma Education Association.
“This isn’t a union plan, this is for teachers,” Ownbey said. “We are looking at 3- $5,000 raises, they (OEA) are looking for a $1.4 billion increase as they continue to get teachers riled up. I’m just going to tell you, that’s not going to happen. It’s impossible to get there. We are not going to get there. I don’t think the plan is nearly as good as the plan we have. We can fund this plan, we can get it done with 51 votes.”
Ownbey said the new plan could be fully implemented much sooner than the currently projected six years if currently-stalled revenue measures were to pass. Ownbey said those measures could be implemented either through bipartisan action through the Legislature of through a vote of the people.
“We could do 2-3 steps next year,” Ownbey said. “We know we can do the first two years of this plan right now.”
Ownbey said other school reforms were being negotiated, but didn’t specify the reforms.
“I’m not trying to pick on the schools,” Ownbey said. “We (the Legislature) don’t set teacher salaries, all we set are the minimums. Schools also have dollars that they can use if they so choose. If they choose to not hire that administrator or extra person, there is extra money they can put in place. Every school can have a plan in place if they so choose. Do schools need more money? Absolutely, but so do all other state agencies.”
Senator Frank Simpson, R-Springer, said the plan would be damaging to higher education in the state by drawing professors from state colleges and universities by offering much higher rates of pay.
When asked about possible consolidation, Ownbey took a poll of the audience, asking first who supported administrative consolidations; those supporting consolidation of the Ardmore and Plainview School districts were notably less.
“My seat is up, one of you should run on consolidation of Ardmore and Plainview,” Ownbey said. “If we want good consolidation of administrations, we need to let educators come up with the plan. Changing the system sounds good... But there is no plan in place right now. There is an optional plan in place that school boards can voluntarily consolidate administrations and make money for their districts. The idea is to let school boards make that decision, but how many will?”