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NCLB Outrages

What pay increase?

By Cathy Spaulding

â Cherokee Elementary School kindergartners Tristyn Dooley, Khaalid Johnson and Edith Messer pay close attention to each letter tile they place in the strip in front of them.

This is no Scrabble game. What they get from these letters is far more valuable than point value as Cherokee Elementary reading specialist Angela Johnson has them sound out each letter âMmm - Ooo - Puh.â

Johnson is one of 25 teachers who help kids learn Cherokee. The Oklahoma Legislature has funded the basic $3,000 state-mandated pay raises for most of these teachers. But it does not pay the raise for Johnson, who teaches the schoolâs Voyager Universal Literacy program, which is funded through a federal Reading First grant.

Area school administrators say supplemental money the Legislature approved to pay the teacher salary increases does not cover teachers subsidized by federal funds such as Reading First, Title 1 or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Administrators have accused the Legislature of laying an unfunded mandate on them.

âThe misperception is that these are federal teachers, but when the bill (authorizing the salary increase) was written, it said all teachers have to get the increase,â said state Rep. Jerry McPeak, D-Warner, who has supported the administratorsâ legislative efforts.
House Education Committee Chair, Rep. Tad Jones, R-Claremore, said the state âhas never funded federal teachers.â

He said he has attached an amendment to pending legislation that would stipulate that local districts would not be required to raise salaries for teachers on federal programs if it must raise pay for state-funded teachers. He said the amendment, added to Senate Bill 985, would give local districts the option of raising and funding salaries for teachers on federal programs. Senate Bill 985, unrelated to teacher pay, sets a graduation rate of 100 percent by school year 2014.

Muskogee Public Schools Chief Financial Officer John Little said 70 of the districtâs 416 teachers are on some sort of grant or other federally funded program. He said the district paid the salary increases for the 70 teachers, but had to cut from other parts of the federal program.

Most of Muskogeeâs âfederalâ teachers are on the Title 1 grant, distributed to schools with a large population of students on low income; and the IDEA grant, to help special education programs.

Little said the federal government funds abut $1.7 million for each of those two grants at Muskogee Schools.

The Reading First grant, awarded in 2003, helps schools address poor reading skills. It has funded the Voyager program and reading coaches at Cherokee, Irving, Pershing and Whittier elementaries. Johnson is Cherokeeâs reading coach.

Little said that if the state cannot fund these teachersâ state mandated salary increases, the district would have to drastically cut services funded by the grant, cut some personnel funded by the grant or decide that they cannot take the grant in the future.

âThe perception is that federal program money is discretionary and that we can divert money from personnel,â said Oktaha School Superintendent Jerry Needham. âBut with 80 percent of the money going to personnel, we donât have that discretion.â

Needham said seven of Oktahaâs 47 teachers are funded through federal grants.

He said his district, and other districts throughout Oklahoma, will have to cut deeply into grant money that would have paid for program supplies such as textbooks, computer programs, even furniture.

âWeâre going to fund it on the backs of the students,â Needham said.

Most of Oktahaâs federal money pays for special education teachers, which are part of a co-op of area schools, he said. Smaller school districts in Muskogee County work together to offer services to special education students.

Needham said the schools cannot ask for more federal money to support their existing grants.
âThe federal government is cutting its budget, too,â he said.

Needham said he worries that if the issue of funding teachers on federal programs, plus other problems related to the state funding shortfall are not resolved, schools will have to start cutting staff, just as Catoosa Public Schools had to do earlier this year.

Administrators say lack of funding for âfederalâ teachers is one of several problems they continue to have, even after Senate leaders and House Republicans agreed on a budget in March that included supplemental funding.

Administrators have said the salary increase granted last summer did not include insurance and retirement costs.

The Fort Gibson Public Schools Web newsletter, âThe Roar,â said the budget presented in March does cover insurance and retirement costs related to the this yearâs salary increase, plus a $600 per teacher salary increase statewide for next year. However, The Roar said the budget did not address a $17 million shortfall in state lottery funds or money to support raises for support workers. The Web page said the district still lacks $78,000 to cover the mandated pay raise for teachers subsidized by federal funds, $66,000 for the lottery shortfall, $30,000 to cover the district-paid teacher retirement benefit associated with the raise.

Fort Gibson Superintendent Derald Glover said 20 of Fort Gibsonâs 140 teachers are on federal programs.

Muskogee Phoenix


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