Tahlequah Daily Press

August 15, 2013

Need a job? The Regents are paying


NEW YORK — As of today – Wednesday, Aug. 14 – Tahlequah Public Schools students will be back in class. Many of their peers in the rural areas were already hitting the books.

Another group of people started class even earlier, though that fact is seldom acknowledged by anyone outside their own families, and perhaps the rare politician who thinks currying favor with that group might prove advantageous. We’re speaking of teachers – those special people who have devoted their lives to the future of our most precious resource: our children.

Even as late as the 1990s, teaching was viewed as a noble profession, and that’s as it should be. Few jobs are as important.

But paradoxically, the amount of money teachers bring home on their paychecks, compared to their responsibilities and the degree of higher education required, is among the lowest of any profession.

Teachers used to enjoy a good measure of job security, but that’s no longer the case. Many districts have been forced to lay off teachers in the wake of state budget cuts. And some of Oklahoma’s best and brightest in the education field have been heading for greener pastures – or at least higher salaries – in neighboring states.

After yesterday, we’re thinking some public school teachers – and university professors, too – should consider jumping ship and going to work for the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, whose 268 lucky employees just scored a 5 percent pay hike.

Regent John Massey said the “cost-of-living adjustments” were funded through “internal cost efficiencies,” and pointed out the last “compensation adjustment” for the staff occurred in the 2009 budget. No doubt other state employees who have gone longer would like the same consideration.

Amanda Paliotta, vice chancellor of finance, defended the action by saying the agency has trouble keeping employees. But now that word has leaked out about the raises, there may be a line of qualified applicants around the building.

We’re not saying the regents’ staff doesn’t deserve pay increases; far from it. But other state employees – including educators themselves – have been bypassed over the years, and this doesn’t seem fair.

This seemingly lopsided way of doing business can be largely blamed on the fact that higher education institutions don’t necessarily fall under the same policy umbrella as other state employees.

The regents’ employees aren’t covered by the study ordered by Gov. Mary Fallin to compare private and public sector salaries in other states to those in Oklahoma. Fallin is holding off on raises for other state workers until that study is complete.

When will that happen? We don’t know. All we know for sure is that a statewide pay hike for employees hasn’t occurred since 2006, though some targeted raises have been awarded. Many of these likely occurred for top-tiered administrators, if circumstances hold true to form in this state.

Whatever the case, we hope the best of the best in the state’s employee pool will soon be rewarded for their diligence. Even the most avid anti-government individual has to acknowledge that these people, too, are part of our economic system – and if they don’t have money to spend, the rest of us suffer.