“We will be losing in the race to the bottom,” Oklahoma poised to take last place in teacher salaries

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OKLAHOMA – As the state fights to find ways to give teachers a raise, other states are poised to pass Oklahoma in the national pay scale rankings.

The two states previously below Oklahoma in the rankings are getting ready to phase in salary increases in time for next school year.

“We will be losing in the race to the bottom and, sadly, we will be at 50[th in the country] very soon,” said Oklahoma State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister.

Oklahomans will go to the polls in November to vote on a one-percent sales tax increase, which among other things promises a $5,000 pay increase to all teachers.

But, as voters wait to cast their ballots, South Dakota and Mississippi teachers will both see pay raises.

According to the National Education Association, those are the only two states that rank below Oklahoma in a data set that also includes the District of Columbia.

Beginning June 1, South Dakota’s sales and use tax will increase from 4 percent to 4.5 percent, generating an approximately $8,000 raise.

A law passed in Mississippi in 2014 phased in $2,500 pay increases, raising a teacher’s base salary from $30,900 to $33.390, according to the Mississippi Education Association.

Oklahoma teachers receive a starting base salary of $31,600, a figure that includes benefits.

“That’s stiff competition when you’re at the bottom,” Hofmeister said. “Even standing as tall as we can, with states that may not include that, we still fall short.”

For Putnam City Teacher of the Year Tony Flores, it’s tough news, even for an optimist.

“It’s going to hurt us in so many ways, not just the children,” said Flores, who teaches music at Wiley Post Elementary. “It’s going to hurt our business, and it’s already hurt the morale of the teachers.”

Flores turned down an offer from a school in Houston that would give him a $25,000 raise, just so he can work with the students in the Putnam City district.

To save money, he doesn’t have a car.

Right now, all he’s asking for is the $5,000 raise, even though it may seem a small sum.

“That’s money to put in your savings,” he said. “That’s save up for two years, and you could get a new car. That’s money toward a down payment on a house.  And, the biggest part of it is it’s respect. You’re being appreciated for the hard work you do.”

Though Flores acknowledges the so-called ‘Penny Sales Tax’ plan may not be perfect, as the only currently viable option on the table, he said it’s a must.

“Those $5,000 are going to make people feel appreciated,” he said. “And, you can’t put a dollar amount on appreciation, but it sure makes people want to stick around.”

OCPA Impact, which has lobbied against the one percent sales tax increase plan, is not disputing the need for a pay raise, but CEO Dave Bond said there are ways to do it without generating new revenue.

He acknowledges though, with lawmakers adjourned, some of those cost-saving moves will be tougher.

He said some districts could do more to eliminate administrative positions to save money.

Hofmeister has not taken a position on the tax increase but said many districts have already cut as much as they can.

“There is always room for improvement, but we are at a place where we are cut to the bone,” she said. “We cannot wait, kids cannot wait [for a teacher pay increase]. Our kids deserve it, the stakes are high, and our kids are depending on it in our state to get it right.”

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