State Question 801 was proposed by the Oklahoma legislature as a mechanism to return a modest amount of control to local school boards. Specifically, it would give school boards the discretion to use building fund money for general fund expenditures.
So what is really going on here? If you look at last year’s property tax bill, you will see a line for the school district building fund. The money collected from this tax is used by your school district to purchase and maintain buildings and land. It is not nearly enough to adequately maintain facilities. So, schools must also use general fund dollars to supplement their building funds. Some school districts even include some maintenance dollars in their bond issue proposals, which must be approved by voters.
In other words, building funds across the state are woefully inadequate to fully meet their intended purpose. In effect, our legislature is advocating schools stop or reduce building maintenance in order to increase pay for teachers and other staff members.
Since SQ 801 would make funds available to increase teacher pay, teachers think this is a great idea, right? Well, no.
Oklahoma Education Association is the largest teacher union in the state. OEA president Alicia Priest is not aware of a single district where teachers or administrators support the proposal. “It is very telling that it actually does nothing to help our schools or to fund our schools,” Priest said. “It just gives the appearance that the legislature is doing something to allow some flexibility.”
Teachers understand an important part of their work environment, and their students’ learning environment, is having an adequately maintained school building. Take time to talk with teachers and you will hear stories from all across our state of deteriorating buildings, drainage problems, mold and mildew issues, leaky roofs, peeling paint, and inadequate security systems. The lists go on and on.
But, surely local school boards support and appreciate the legislature’s magnanimous gesture to return local control to them! Again, no.
Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, indicates he has “found zero schools that have requested this or are telling us that they support it.” He goes on to say school boards aren’t going to change anything they do, because building fund revenues are already inadequate to meet current needs.
If teachers, administrators, and school boards all see no benefit from SQ 801, where is the benefit? It is at 23rd and Lincoln. SQ 801 gives the impression the legislature is trying to think outside the box. In reality, they are, once again, creating the appearance of action while they are doing nothing to increase school funding or help schools deliver on their missions to educate the next generation. SQ 801 simply creates the opportunity to shuffle existing money around.
Even with recent spending increases, per student spending in Oklahoma is still below 2009 levels. This is inexcusable and must be addressed during the next legislative session.
SQ 801 is not part of the solution. It simply puts lipstick on a pig. The editorial board unanimously recommends a NO vote on SQ 801.