Report says bigger classes would mean bigger teacher salaries

Wednesday, December 22nd 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A study by Gov. Frank Keating's finance director says Oklahoma teachers could get a big raise by increasing class sizes and reducing services to students. "Simply by lowering our education spending in some areas to the applicable national average would free up millions of dollars that could be allocated to teachers' salaries," Keating's finance director, Tom Daxon, said Tuesday.

Senate President Pro Tempore Stratton Taylor, D-Claremore, said the study looked like an April Fool's joke. "It's really hard to give any proposal serious consideration that suggests funding teacher pay raises by cutting school lunches, packing more kids into the classroom and firing other teachers," Taylor said. "We'd be the only state in the country that is actually trying to increase our class sizes rather than decrease them."
Taylor said the report was "some kind of accounting shell game that pits (teachers) against school lunches and other teachers."

The study focused on pupil-teacher ratio, student services, food service and district-level administrative costs. Oklahoma's student-teacher ratio is 15-1. An estimated 3,648 teaching positions could be eliminated to change the ratio to the national average of 17-1, making $103.6 million available for other purposes, the study shows.

"In an age when we need a closer relationship between teachers and students so that they can help not only in academic areas but they can help on student guidance and safety, this is a dangerous idea," said Carolyn Crowder, president of the Oklahoma Education Association. She said suggestions in the report "were made in many areas on the backs of our students. Raising our pupil-teacher ratio could end up hurting our student achievement." Ms. Crowder said she questioned the sincerity of the study" when Mr. Daxon himself says it isn't intended to be a proposal." "It makes me worry that this is just a diversion and that there's really not going to be a real proposal for an increase for anybody -- students or teachers," she said.

Daxon said reducing education spending in three areas to the national average, while matching the national average for pupil-teacher ratio, "frees up enough money to raise the state's average teacher's salary $5,767 to $34,171, or 90.6 percent of the national average. "If you consider the lower cost of living in Oklahoma, the average teacher salary rises to $37,142, or 98.5 percent of the national average." Daxon said that one way to increase teachers' salaries is to reduce costs in areas "where other states have shown an ability to deliver the same services using less money than Oklahoma."

Ms. Crowder said the idea of raising the pupil-teacher ratio flies in the face of voters' endorsement of House Bill 1017 about10 years ago. "Class size was the major reform of 1017, and it is the major reform that we have accomplished in the last 10 years," Crowder said. "Our class sizes are among the lowest in the nation; that's one thing we can point to and say we are among the top 10 in the nation in class sizes in our lower grades," she said.