- Associated Press - Saturday, January 25, 2014

TULSA, Okla. (AP) - The superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools says Oklahoma must do more to compete with higher teacher salaries in surrounding states to address its worsening teacher shortage.

Superintendent Keith Ballard told Tulsa-area lawmakers on Friday that there has been no state-mandated pay raise for teachers in Oklahoma since 2006. Ballard said funding for both common and higher education has dropped off significantly.

“We are in competition with northwest Arkansas. We are in competition with the Dallas-Fort Worth area,” Ballard said at a special meeting that the Tulsa School Board hosts for legislators each year.

“The money is there, but it’s about how those funds are managed,” Ballard said. “How could we possibly be looking at an income tax cut when we have a teacher shortage and critical needs?”

Last fall, the Oklahoma Education Workforce Shortage Task Force began studying the issue. State Schools Superintendent Janet Barresi has also addressed it.

The Tulsa World reports (http://bit.ly/1f1my94 ) that the Tulsa School Board has voted to use $430,820 donated by local philanthropists to get teacher recruiting assistance from a national organization.

Nearly 400 Tulsa teachers retired or resigned in the previous school year. The district started the current year short-handed and never caught up.

State Sen. Gary Stanislawski, a Tulsa Republican and vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee, responded to Ballard’s comments by saying: “There are people who have asked, ‘What about buying more time with that pay raise?’”

Ballard said he would support the concept of increasing instructional time in exchange for a statewide pay hike.

Ballard recalled a conversation he had with a superintendent from the Spring Branch school district in Houston who expressed shock when Ballard told him the starting pay for teachers in Oklahoma was about $32,000.

“His district starts teachers at $47,000 and they’re going up to $50,000 next year,” Ballard said.

Rep. Kevin Matthews, D-Tulsa, said his son is a recent college graduate who is teaching in Dallas through the Teach for America program. He said he loves teaching in the urban setting but “wouldn’t dream” of coming back to Tulsa because of the pay.

“We don’t have the political will when we get to the Capitol to say they have to have quality pay and benefits,” Matthews said. “We have a great system, but we can’t retain them because they can get paid better other places.”

Ballard noted that Tulsa Public Schools has closed school buildings, renegotiated contracts and engaged in an aggressive utility-savings initiative to fund salary increases to make itself more competitive in hiring.

___

Story Continues →