Oklahoma Teachers Rally For Pensions, Classrooms At State Capitol

Tuesday, March 15th 2011, 9:40 am
By: News 9

Staff and Wire Reports

OKLAHOMA CITY --  Hundreds of Oklahoma teachers are filing into the state Capitol to ask lawmakers to provide more funding for local classrooms and better support for educators.

About 500 teachers visited the Capitol Tuesday for a rally to show support for public education saying they're tired of overcrowded classrooms and low pay and will try to convince lawmakers they need more money for the classroom.

Incoming Oklahoma Education Association President Linda Hampton said teachers are concerned that the number of students in the state is increasing while the number of teachers is dropping.

"We are actually working towards what we call the three Rs of education, our rights, retirement and revenue," said Hampton.

State lawmakers are considering bills that would change teacher pension systems and do away with an appeals process for fired teachers called trial de novo. Lawmakers have also warned that a budget shortfall of $500 million next year could reduce classroom spending.

"They are having to make some tough choices and hoping they don't put it on the backbones of teachers and retired teachers," said teacher James Robb.

A National Education Association study shows Oklahoma teacher pay went from 42nd in the nation to 19th after figuring in cost-of-living and adjusting salaries, which was a shock to many educators at the rally.

"That's not been the case for me. I've been teaching for 14 years. My second career, I have a master's plus 30 and I make about $42,000 a year and I work many more than my contract hours a week," said teacher Merrie Wolf.

Many Oklahoma teachers hold down second jobs in the summer and say they dig into their own pockets to pay for school supplies.

"I can assure the folks of Oklahoma that teachers are not paid 19th in the country," said Joel Robison, with Oklahoma Education Association.

Robinson does not believe the NEA study is accurate. He said typically Oklahoma teacher pay ranks 48th or 49th in the nation.

Teachers at the rally added they don't want their situation to turn into what teachers are dealing with in Wisconsin.

"Our hearts go out to the people in Wisconsin and anybody that is losing their rights to gather collectively so they are in our thoughts and prayers," said Hampton.