What a Relief!

I‘m so glad that former state legislator John Wright has gotten a $12,000 raise in the nine months he’s worked for Tulsa County Assessor Ken Yazel. I have no idea whether or not Mr. Wright is skilled at his job, but Mr. Yazel assures us that he is. In fact, the Tulsa World quotes,
“His salary is very commensurate with his capabilities, his education and his responsibilities,” Yazel said. So he makes $84,000 a year.  It’s nice that former senators can get great jobs like that.  Another recent hire by Yazel, Don Newberry, a brother of a state senator, got a nice $6,000 raise (from $51,000 to $57,000 annually) for completing his college degree. Good job, Don.

While I know the assessor’s office has nothing to do with education, I couldn’t help being struck by the irony of these two employees getting such large raises for their “experience” and “completion of degrees” when Oklahoma teachers have had their $5,000 bonus for getting a Master Teaching Certificate taken away.  This is money that was promised to them by the state, but it seems that every time I turn around our legislators, with the support of the governor and State Superintendent Janet Barresi, are cutting education. At the same time professing to be all about the students, they cut millions from education. How does this help our children? Maybe so they can be around more of their friends? I saw that Hale High School shoved in 500 more students this year. Wow. Cozy.

While Superintendent Barresi says she wants to support teachers and give them more training, she jerks the rug out from under them by not funding their benefits (expecting the strapped school districts to pick up the slack) and taking away the money for advanced certification (which is not an easy thing to get). While teachers don’t go into education for the money, it does help to be above the poverty line.

It’s easy to blame the teachers, but most are struggling through and doing an excellent job. I know teachers and coaches who go to children’s homes to give them food because they’re starving and their students need food to be able to learn. I know teachers who buy their own books and supplies for their rooms. I know a young man (new teacher) who recently sent around an email to ask people to go to Amazon to help him purchase high interest books for his classroom because the students came to school below reading level and he needed to get them prepared for the state standardized test. He wanted to have some books in his room that the students would want to read. Yes, the test is there, but where’s this young teacher’s support? Where are the supplies he needs for his classroom? Where are the small classes and specialized reading tutors that he needs to help his students get up to grade level in reading?

Tulsa School Superintendent Ballard and the Tulsa school board have been doing their best in the face of draconian cuts. It must be tough to keep up the morale. If our legislature, state superintendent and governor really cared about kids, they wouldn’t continue their laser-like destruction of public schools. Not to mention cutting funding to Street School and funding of social workers in the schools. You may not have a child with extreme difficulties. You may not even know one, but those kids who do need this extra help live in our city. They interact with our children and families. We want them to get that extra help they need to become contributing members of society. We should all care that these special services are being eliminated.

Let’s see. What else? There are so many ways that our State Government is dismantling public schools that I can’t write about them all in one blog.  Well, there’s the new law that gives tax breaks to businesses or individuals who give money to entities that give scholarships to low income kids. That sounds good, right? Superintendent Barresi really praised that one. I’m all for helping kids in poverty, but this is more of a ploy to give tax breaks to people who want to support private schools. So, you give a scholarship to one child out of thousands to go to a private school. How is that helping public education? Wouldn’t it be better to adequately fund public schools and help all of our children?

One area where Oklahoma does excel nationally is in our support of public early childhood education. We’re at the head of the 50-state pack on this one. We know that if we start early getting children ready for school, before they’re in kindergarten, there is a much higher probability of school success. And that helps all of us, right? Well, the new Race to the Top dollars are going to states with outstanding early childhood programs this round. Oklahoma should be a shoo-in. Gov. Fallin and Superintendent Barresi said they may not want to participate. What?! So, you wouldn’t want a few million dollars for early childhood education in Oklahoma? Why? Because it’s from the Obama administration? They say it’s because they would have to make it up when the money’s gone. Why? Why not use it to the best possible advantage while you have it.  I hope they decide to go for it on this one. Please.

I heard Gov. Fallin talking about wanting more college graduates in our state. Great! But we can’t wait until they go to college to make sure they’re ready for college. Readiness for education starts at birth. Kids need good health care, nutrition, mentors, great schools. Everything that currently our governor, state superintendent of schools and legislature seem hell-bent on destroying.

Categories: Editor’s Blog