The Pryor Times

April 5, 2014

Superintendents discuss school situations

Staff Writer
Cydney Baron

PRYOR, OK — Educators, enthusiasts and advocates met early Saturday morning for an education forum hosted by Mayes County Democrats.

Superintendents Don Raleigh, Pryor, Kenny Mason, Chouteau and Tom Linihan, Adair, were present to provide updates on their individual districts as well as thoughts on the upcoming rally which was held at the Capitol Monday.

Linihan, began by thanking Rep. Ben Sherrer for “fighting the good fight on behalf of education.

“We're very excited about Adair Schools. We were chosen as one of six Blue Ribbon Schools in the nation,” said Linihan. “And an Adair student, Madison Birky, was the only academic all-stater in the county. We are so proud of her.”

Linihan said Adair is a great community willing to rally support for their school system.

“We recently had our FFA Labor Auction, that raised $45,000 in two hours. Our community support is huge,” he said.

He pointed out that Oklahoma has 85,000 more students, but are still operating at pre-2009 funding.

“That's our goal, in rallying at the Capitol, is to increase funding to a reasonable level,” said Linihan, saying the goal could be higher, given the cost of food and fuel has increased while budgets have not. “But that's all we want, is pre-recession funding. We need to make education a priority. I read this morning that a professional baseball player signed  a 10-year contract for $29.2 million per year. Wouldn't it be newsworthy if we could sign a one-year contract for a teacher at $50,000 per year? Priorities.”

Mason bragged about his community as well.

“The problem in education funding is not a local problem, they're at the state level,” said Mason.

Mason said the general public, not working in a school, does not always understand the large scope of issues dealt with in a public school.

“We have a school resource officer on staff that deals with any real or potential drug or weapon issues. She conducts drills and safety training on disasters, drug prevention, date rape, stranger danger and much more. She serves as the school truancy officer,” said Mason.

He said the school has one school nurse that has 50 to 60 student contacts per day. In the last month, the nurse has dealt with lice, bed bugs, ringworms and scabies.

“We have a school-based social worker. We also have a child nutritionist that serves 1,650 meals per day. We serve breakfast free and we're trying to get free lunches. We are a Certified Healthy School and we're working hard on the whole foods and Farm to School programs,” said Mason.

Mason said the school had a near catastrophe after the professionally trained chef, hired as school nutritionist, secured funding for whole foods to serve in the cafeteria.

“We were able to secure and serve real, whole chickens. These kids panicked because they had never seen real chicken, with a bone, and they didn't know how to eat it,” said Mason.

Mason said the school offers a backpack lunch program to feed students over the summer, tutoring, speech therapy and occupational therapy.

“We bus 80 percent of our students to and from school. The state gives us $56,000 per year to do that. It costs us $74,000 in fuel alone, not counting maintenance and upkeep,” said Mason.

Mason said his district receives $10,000 for reading efficiency but the payroll for intervention teachers costs the district $100,000.

“We’re following suit of Jeb Bush’s mandates in Florida. But you know the difference between us and Florida? Their mandates come with state funding and ours don’t,” said Mason.

He said schools aren't asking for luxury, just basic operating costs.

“You can't teach a hungry child, or one itching with bed bugs,” Mason said.

He said the starting teacher salary in Oklahoma is $31,600. If a teacher works for 25 years to reach the top pay given by the state, her net income increases only $1,200, according to Mason.

“A master's degree costs between $12,000 and $20,000, typically. Our educators would have to teach, in Oklahoma, 10 years to pay off their master's degree. Our educators can't afford their own education,” said Mason, “The government is talking about an increase in minimum wage that would result in a $5,928 increase (per year for wage earners), our teachers would have to work for 14 years for that kind of increase.”

Chouteau Public Schools, Mason said, has $355,000 less in state funding than they did five years ago.

Raleigh said his district has received state aid cuts each of the six years he's been in the position.

“Our students are at a poverty level of 59 percent. This presents unique challenges every day, challenges we didn't have to face before,” said Raleigh.

Raleigh talked about the district’s two bond issues in six years. The most recent, was a district-wide construction and renovation project.

“The part of that project that got the least attention but made the most impact, I think, was Jefferson Elementary. The teachers didn't have a teacher's lounge, or a teacher bathroom,” said Raleigh. “You saw what we pay them, the least we can do is give them a bathroom.”

Raleigh said the district is receiving $243.60 less per weighted student than they received in 2009. Raleigh expressed his gratitude for the Pryor Academic Excellence Foundation, who works “endless hours to secure funding for classrooms.”

“We've maintained as much as possible, but something has to give. We will have less staff next year, hopefully we'll be able to limit it to just retirements,” said Raleigh. “These kids don't care about budget, they just want to know that someone cares about them and is meeting their needs.”