OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma teachers have some of the lowest salaries in the country. The state superintendent is calling for pay raises. She said they are possible without having to add any extra money to the education budget. It's a plan some say sounds good but is impossible. Superintendent Janet Barresi convened the Oklahoma Education Workforce Shortage Task Force for the first time Monday. Barresi is bringing educators and lawmakers together to find ways to recruit and retain teachers in Oklahoma."We began the day with stipulating something: teachers aren't being paid enough in Oklahoma," Barresi said.She said a $2,000 raise will bridge the gaps in pay between teachers in Oklahoma and those in surrounding states. Barresi outlined a plan Monday to get those raises without asking the legislature for extra funding."We're challenging school districts, board members, and superintendents to get together, take a look at two funding sources and to repurpose those dollars towards awarding every teacher in the state a $2,000 pay raise," she said.Baressi said it would take $100 million a year to pay for raises. She said districts can take part of the funding from their carry-over budget-- a fund that is used in cases of emergency and to cover operational costs before state funding comes in. She said districts can repurpose some of the $4.4 billion the state provides for education to make up the rest.But some say this would be detrimental to some districts."I think teachers in our state are some of the hardest working individuals and I think it's incumbent upon us to look at ways to make their lives a little easier," Rep. Lee Denney, R- Cushing, said.Denney is part of the task force. She said she is glad that there is a focus on providing teachers with more money, but she doesn't know if Barresi's plan will work."If we start to use the carry-over every year, pretty soon we will eat away their entire carry-over and won't be able to start the school year," she said.Denney said if the plan could work, she could not see it providing raises for more than one school year.Norman Public Schools agrees. The spokesperson for the district said Superintendent Joseph Siano doesn't believe the raises are possible. NPS said dipping into the carry-over would only provide raises for one year before becoming detrimental to operations.Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Karl Springer issued this statement:"Currently Oklahoma City Public Schools receives $500,000 less per month in state funding compared to 2009; since that time our student population has grown by more than 4,200 students. We continue to do more with less. Our teachers deserve a raise, but I don't want this district to have to cut jobs to pay for it."Denney said lawmakers should get involved."I think if we really want to be diligent, we need to look at a permanent funding source for our teachers," Denney said.
She said now that the state is recovering from the recession it is time to take a look at raises for teachers and other state employees. Still, Denney said it may be hard to come up with the money needed to fund raises each year.