Tahlequah Daily Press

July 12, 2011

Brown files teacher stipend legislation

By JOSH NEWTON
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — State Rep. Mike Brown, D-Tahlequah, has filed legislation he says will ensure National Board-Certified Teachers receive the stipends promised to them by the state.

State Superintendent Janet Barresi decided recently to pull the $5,000 bonus for teachers who successfully completed the three-year process to become National Board-certified.

Brown said House Bill 2186, titled Merit-Based Pay for Professional Development, would establish a dedicated revenue source from which funds for the NBCT program will be protected and held harmless from budget cuts.

The funding would be subtracted from general-revenue funds certified each year by the State Board of Equalization, then transferred to the National Board Certification Revolving Fund and distributed by the State Board of Education to eligible teachers.

Brown said the process mirrors a mechanism already in place for funding the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program.

“In my opinion, both the Legislature and Superintendent Barresi are derelict in their duties by failing to honor the statutory requirement of funding these bonuses,” said Brown. “I can’t think of any professional who wouldn’t be upset if they earned an increase in pay and then were, without notice or adequate explanation, told they were receiving this year what amounts to a significant pay decrease.”

Under state law, or what is called the Education Leadership Oklahoma Act, Tthe State Board of Education shall provide all teachers who attain National Board certification a bonus in the amount of $5,000 annually no later than Jan. 31 for as long as they maintain their National Board certification and are teaching in the classroom full-time in an Oklahoma public school.”

Tahlequah High School teacher Chuck Pack, who has achieved his National Board certification, and also sits on the board of the Oklahoma Education Association, said Barresi’s actions are “ludicrous.”

“She is anti-public education,” said Pack. “The state entered into a covenant with teachers, and said if you’ll do this process, we’ll give you a bonus. For me, it was an 18-month process, 400 hours, every Saturday, August through March ... of me sacrificing huge quantities of time from my family. So this hit me personally. To have that taken away – and then for Ms. Barresi to ask the school districts to pay the bonus – it’s ludicrous! She wants to take text book money away from students? It doesn’t pass the smell test.”

As Pack indicated in his statement, Barresi had suggested school districts fund the NBCT bonuses by using some $33 million allocated for text books.

Pack said National Board certification is a research-proven method, a “key to success in the classroom.” It improves teacher quality, he said, and as a result, improves the learning opportunities of students.

“There’s research to back that up,” said Pack. “So the OEA is identifying National Board-certified Teachers in districts to go to their legislators. We’re asking them to call, write or email them.”

Pack said Barresi’s budget plans were put in front of the state’s Board of Education at the 11th hour. Pack acknowledged former Sen. Herb Rozell, of Tahlequah, for taking a stand against the move.

“Sen. Rozell has been a champion for students, teachers, communities, and National Board-certified Teachers,” said Pack.

When Barresi placed her budget in front of state school board members, including Rozell, and demanded they approve it immediately to meet a deadline, Rozell wouldn’t do so without reading it, Pack said.

During a vote of the board, Rozell and two others voted against approving the budget. The 3-3 vote led to Barresi’s breaking the tie and approving the budget, according to Pack.

The OEA is now working with legislators to create some type of supplemental for National Board Certified Teachers, Pack said. He said that would come in the form of a line item that would go directly to the State Department of Education, forcing the department to pay the bonus.

Brown said state law requires salary bonus funds to be specifically appropriated by the Legislature to the state’s Board of Education, but accuses the Legislature of appropriating money to the board in a lump sum. That, he said, led to the Legislature’s failure to direct the board on how to expend the money or requiring that it give a certain amount to NBCT bonuses.

Barresi then had the authority to adhere to the statute outlining bonus salaries, but chose not to direct dollars to the NBCT program, Brown said.

“I filed this bill as I have grave concerns as to the superintendent’s intentions to do right by our best and brightest teachers in our state,” said Brown.

“Barresi has already indicated she will not pursue supplemental appropriations for this valuable incentive program, and I question if she will fight for our teachers in the future to receive this merit-based pay.”

Tahlequah Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Shannon Goodsell agrees with Pack and Brown.

“I believe the state has made a promise to National Board-certified Teachers,” said Goodsell. “They should pay their bills. This is according to state law.”

Goodsell said it’s “hard to give an answer” on whether the district could take action to pay bonuses to National Board Certified Teachers, “when we don’t even have a budget from the state.”

“The state has been negligent in telling school districts how much money it will have to operate next school year,” said Goodsell. “The deadline for that was in April. Here we are, in July, with no budget. It’s absolutely a deplorable situation.”

Brown said he is “very disheartened” by Barresi’s attitude toward public school teachers, as well as her idea to pursue private partnerships with schools to take care of the bonus cuts.

“Barresi has already proved her allegiance to charter and private schools over public schools in our state, and given the ease in which she pulled the rug out from under our best teachers by shortchanging their salary, I can’t help but wonder if she really wants our public school system to improve or to fail,” said Brown.

This week, Barresi acknowledged to the Tulsa World that there are “a lot of painful decisions reflected in that budget. But we have to deal with real numbers and real dollars, in this case nearly $100 million less real dollars for education.”

A State Department of Education spokesman told that newspaper Oklahomans “have made it clear they want reform and change. [Barresi] has been elected to do a job, and she is going to move on and do that job.”

Brown’s bill will be assigned to a House committee for consideration when legislators reconvene Monday, Feb. 6.

Oklahoma is ranked ninth in the nation for the number of National Board-certified teachers in its public school system, according to Pack. TPS has more than 20 teachers who are either National Board-certified, or have taken the test and are awaiting results.

Approximately 3,000 current Oklahoma teachers have achieved the honor.