Tuesday, April 1, 2008

by Steve Fair

There are two undeniable stables of truth in Oklahoma politics. The first is that Democrats NEVER do anything unless it's "for the children." The second is that Oklahoma public education and higher education NEVER have enough money. State school superintendents from across the state were at the State Capitol today to whine and cry about the lack of funding for public education. Oklahoma state law requires the legislature to pass an educational budget before April 1st. It was NEVER done when the Dems were in power and the Republicans haven't gotten it done by that date either.

Democrats are such hypocrites. For example, State Representative Jerry McPeak, D-Warner said, “I’m deeply disappointed and frustrated that we continue to shortchange the children of our state.” “This is the fourth year in a row under Republican leadership that the House has failed to send an education budget to the Governor’s desk. It is time they start to take some responsibility for their actions.” No surprise- McPeak is a retired teacher who is enhancing his retirement "serving" the people- aka his buddies at the OEA.

Republicans have been in control of ONE chamber of the State legislature for four years, but all of a sudden the GOP is to blame for Oklahoma ranking 47th in the country in teacher pay? Since Republicans gained control of the House in 2004, they have been funded education and infrastructure at a much higher rate than Democrats did in their 90 plus year "reign of terror." What hypocrisy! Instead of cursing the darkness, the superintendents and Democrats- one and the same- should light a candle. Here are some suggestions for fixing our broken public school funding system:

Candle 1: Appoint a Blue Ribbon Commission structured like BRAC to consider school consolidation in Oklahoma. Oklahoma has more school districts than Texas- more than Florida. Each of those schools have infrastructure, administration, teachers, buildings, etc. Millions could be saved by closing some of the smaller schools. The Commission would evaluate the districts based on performance, geographics and other predetermined criteria.

Candle 2: Support an Administrator sharing bill. There have been a number of proposals over the years that would have allowed school district to share administrators. However no superintendent or administrator wants to talk about duplication of jobs within their "industry." With the advent of the automobile and the digital computer, one administrator should be able to manage/lead more than one school district. It's happening in the private sector and it appears to be working, so why can't it be effective in school districts?

Candle 3: Get creative where you are. Instead of whining because you don't have the money, superintendents should develop a plan to use the money they have effectively. If these superintendents would spend more of their time listening to their subordinates and patrons instead of calling legislators asking for more money, they might find out there is waste and inefficiency within their own house.

If we gave education EVERY penny of the Oklahoma state budget, they would want more. And the result? Lower test scores and lower classroom teacher pay vs. the rest of the country and region. The problem is we are treating the symptoms instead of the disease. Until we get serious in Oklahoma about revamping our public education system, we are doomed to go through this same song and dance every legislative session.

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