A quality education for area students is imperative for the next generation, but students can’t receive a top-notch education if they don’t have willing, qualified educators to guide them. Yet, public school districts in southern Oklahoma have an additional difficulty in recruiting such teachers: Texas school districts, by and large, pay far more to recruit new educators and to keep veteran teachers on board.
“Oklahoma falls short when it comes to pay for teachers,” Lone Grove Public Schools Superintendent Meri Jayne Miller said. “The state sets the minimum salary schedule, and local districts can choose to pay their teachers more than the minimum, but this effort is hampered by the revenue that local districts receive each year. Texas has the ability to offer higher salaries and better incentive packages for educators.”
Oklahoma’s minimum salary for a first-year public-school teacher is $31,600, although districts can pay more if they feel they can afford to.
To wit, Tishomingo Public Schools starts new teachers at $32,100; Ardmore City Schools at $32,632; Plainview Public Schools at $32,800; and Madill Public Schools at $33,100.
So it is, Ardmore City Schools Superintendent Sonny Bates said, that “each year, Ardmore City Schools loses teachers to other districts outside of the state of Oklahoma for one reason or another.”
The goal, Bates said, is to retain qualified teachers it successfully recruits.
“If we keep them here, we can really move forward academically,” he said. “We have a good baseline. We have a good curriculum. We have good teachers. We need to keep them here.”

An innate passion
Those who choose education as a vocation tend to have several things in common, among them an empathy for children.
“Most educators will tell you they felt ‘led’ to their teaching careers because of their love for children and because they want to make a difference in the lives of others,” Miller said. “Most don’t go into their profession for the pay, however that doesn’t justify paying teachers less than what they deserve.”
One doesn’t have to venture far into the Lone Star State to see the discrepancy. South on Interstate 35, the closest school district to Ardmore is the Gainesville Independent School District, which offers a starting salary of $39,600 — nearly $7,000 less than Ardmore does.
“The reason I would speculate that there are higher salaries in North Texas (public school districts) would be due to a host of reasons,” Gainesville Independent School District Superintendent Jeffrey L. Brasher. “First, they have the money to fund higher salaries. Second would be that there are so many schools clustered together and to some extent they want their salaries competitive and to fund living expenses for the area.
“I know that the superintendents in the area collaborate and keep the salaries in line with one another so as to keep from over-extending their budgets. This way districts can focus on other research-based strategies for recruiting and retaining high-quality staff.”

The push for funding
For those reasons among others, area school administrators stress the need for the Oklahoma Legislature to continue to find ways to bolster its funding for public education despite the current fiscal constraints, due in large part to shrinking oil and gas revenues.
“It is imperative that we continue, even in difficult budget circumstances and while tightening our fiscal belts, to ensure that our hardworking and committed educators meet the regional average in teacher pay,” Oklahoma State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister told The Ardmoreite by email. “Failure to do so will only exacerbate our already daunting teacher shortage.”
Still, area school districts are taking matters into their own hands.
Ardmore City Schools recently approved a one-time retention incentive payment to full-time regularly contracted employees for the remainder of this school year.
“The district wants each employee to continue his or her career in the Ardmore City Schools district,” Bates said. “It is a commitment. It is an investment in faculty, administration and staff to stay in the trenches with our kids and take them to the next level. It’s something we need to do. We need to show that we do have that pride in those that work for us and we would like them to be a part of the ACS community for as long as they’re teaching.”