April 2007 Editorial Winner

Salary gap problem

By Jeff Mullin, Enid News & Eagle

We're No. 47.
That's not exactly the kind of chant emanating from proud supporters of successful athletic teams. A smaller number is generally more highly prized, like No. 1.
But No. 47 is exactly where the state of Oklahoma finds itself in terms of teacher pay, according to a survey conducted by American Federation of Teachers.
The average teacher salary in Oklahoma for the 2004-05 school year is $37,879. That was a jump of 8 percent from the previous year.
The survey reveals a classic bad news, good news situation. The bad news is Oklahoma is far behind the national average for teacher pay, which is $47,602.
The good news is the state has been ranked as low as 49th in teacher pay, so at least some improvement has been shown. In addition, the ranking does not reflect the $3,000 across-the-board teacher salary increase in Oklahoma.
Of course, that increase has proven good news for teachers, but bad news for school districts struggling to pay for the raises. The state failed to fund taxes and other costs related to the raises, which have put many school districts in a financial bind. Enid Public Schools are facing a $1.6 million shortfall, which is expected to result in between 20 and 26 certified teaching positions being cut.
That puts the state in a bind. In order to attract and keep the best teachers possible, Oklahoma must offer salaries comparable to those offered in bordering states. But simply mandating the raises won't work, as we have recently found out.
Increasing teacher pay is important to keep the best teachers in our state. But mandating unfunded increases only will lead to more cutbacks, which will put more teachers out of work.
That will result in fewer teachers working with more students, which will impact not only the teachers' sanity but also the quality of Oklahoma's schools.
And that, after all, is not an area about which we want to say "We're No. 47."