OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Oklahoma school superintendents joined state House Democrats Tuesday in demanding action on an education funding measure they said is needed to fully fund $3,000 teacher pay raises authorized by state lawmakers last year.
House Republican leaders said negotiations are under way with the Senate and Gov. Brad Henry on a supplemental appropriations measure that will fill a multi-million-dollar gap between what was authorized last year and the amount of money appropriated.
"This is obviously a big budget issue," said Rep. Tad Jones, R-Claremore, chairman of the House Education Committee. Other state agencies, including the Department of Corrections, are also seeking supplemental money from the $235 million in certified new revenue available next year, including growth funds and surplus cash.
But superintendents from across the state said they may be forced to lay off teachers and other school workers unless lawmakers act soon on a $58 million supplemental appropriation bill to pay for costs associated with last year's raise, including Social Security and teacher's retirement contributions.
"We're struggling," said Superintendent Perry Adams of Perry Public Schools. He said has spent $900,000 to pay salary costs mandated by the Legislature but not funded.
"This is money that's needed now," Adams said. "This is money that was owed last year."
Glen Elliott, superintendent of Burlington schools, said legislative leaders assured school superintendents before lawmakers convened on Feb. 5 that the issue would be resolved quickly. Three weeks later, school officials are still waiting.
"At this point it looks like a total disaster," Elliott said. "We're not asking for anything that hasn't been promised to us."
"The kids of this state is who they really owe," said Bill Seitter, superintendent of Weatherford Public Schools.
Roger Sharp, superintendent of Muldrow Public Schools, asked lawmakers to authorize the money by March 9 -- one month before superintendents are required to let school workers know whether they will be offered a contract for the next school year.
"This is teachers that they're going to have to cut," said Rep. Ray McCarter, D-Marlow, himself a retired school superintendent.
Jones said GOP officials support an additional $21 million to make up for the teacher pay raise shortfalls. Jones said the Democratic proposal includes other funding categories not ordinarily paid for with state funds, including teachers who are paid with federal money.