With the general election now just a few days away, one of the closest statewide races is the one for State Superintendent of Schools.
The Republican, Joy Hofmeister, and Democrat, John Cox, have both been campaigning vigosously across the state for the right to take the place of defeated incumbent Janet Barresi.
Each candidate is running an ad on television, but only one -- the ad being run by the Hofmeister campaign -- attacks the opponent. News 9 decided to take a closer look at the spot and check its claims for truthfulness and accuracy.
"John Cox's superintendent salary is $141,000," says the announcer, at the start of the advertisement, "nearly twice the state average."
This is a half-truth.
It is true that Cox, who is superintendent of the Peggs school district in Cherokee County, has a salary of about $141,000. But, according to the State Department of Education (SDE), the average superintendent salary in Oklahoma is just over $103,452. Cox's salary is 1.4 times the state average.
As far as the actual salary, Cox points out that, like most rural superintendents, his compensation reflects the fact the fills several roles, including school principal. What's more, he says, he does not set his pay, the school board does.
Hofmeister says he could choose not to accept that salary and, instead, ask for something lower. She says other superintendents have done this when funding was tight, so that they money saved could be put to other uses.
"His teachers?" the ad continues, "They earn three thousand dollars below average."
This is true.
According to SDE, the average teacher in Oklahoma is paid a salary of about $44,000. A report produced by the Office of Educational Quality and Accountability states that the average salary of the teachers in the Peggs district is $41,000.
Cox responds by saying that teacher pay rates are set by the state, not him, and that his teachers, in general, are less experienced, so they're lower on the pay scale.
But Hofmeister correctly points out the state only sets a minimum starting salary, and that districts are free to pay more, if they want. Further, she notes, the teachers in Peggs are, on average, not all that inexperienced. News 9 learned the average tenure of Peggs' 17 teachers is 9 years.
"John Cox paid his teachers less," the ad claims, "so he could make more."
Cox says there is absolutely no validity to this statement and, again, affirms that he has no control over his or his teachers' salaries.
But Hofmeister says it is true, and the proof is in the fact that Cox accepted a pay raise in his most recent contract.
"So this is a very deliberate decision to pay himself more," Hofmeister said in an interview, "knowing that his teachers were making 3,000 less than the state average."