Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

March 21, 2012

School ‘deregulation’ bill controversial

TAHLEQUAH — Last week, the Oklahoma Senate past S.B. 1530 by a vote of 25-17, a move public school employees believe will effectively muffle their collective voices.

The School District Empowerment Program, also known as the deregulation bill, was authored by Sen. John Ford, R-Bartlesville, and would allow local school administrators and school board members to have sole authority on school-related decisions, operating in the same fashion as a charter school.

Opponents say the bill could eliminate collective bargaining agreements already established between teachers and school districts; reduce the salaries of 70 percent of teachers; take away sick and personal leave; and eliminate extra or special-duty pay.

State Sen. Jim Wilson, D-Tahlequah, voted against the bill.

Tahlequah High School math teacher Chuck Pack, who also serves on the Oklahoma Education Association Board of Directors, said people need to be aware of the legislative actions in Oklahoma City that will affect local students and teachers.

“From my perspective, Senate Bill 1530 is bad public policy,” said the 13-year Tahlequah teacher. “This bill could eliminate collective bargaining in Tahlequah and across the state. Take a look at the negotiated agreements TEA [Tahlequah Education Association] and TESPA [Tahlequah Education Support Professionals Association] have worked for decades, alongside Tahlequah administrators and boards of education to build. Almost every negotiated provision in these agreements could be eliminated should this bill become law. Teachers who are aware of the provisions of this piece of legislation are very concerned, as they should be.”

The deregulation bill could eliminate all education mandates, which could fill three volumes, except for 11 items, which include the state minimum salary schedule; participation in the Oklahoma Teachers’ Retirement System; health insurance coverage; criminal background checks; certification requirements; curriculum requirements; payroll deduction; evaluations; fair dismissal and due process; school residence boundaries; mastering state academic content; and continuing education requirements for local school board members.

“I haven’t seen anything that would indicate to me that the Republican leadership is a friend to education,” said Tahlequah Public School Board of Education member David Morrison. “I can’t think that that would be a good idea. Being able to hire and fire teachers on a whim is not a good idea. Administrators are one thing, but teachers are another.”

In a statement released March 13, OEA President Linda Hampton said the state education association worked with Sen. Ford on the 2010 School Empowerment Act to guarantee that the voice of school employees would be heard during the decision-making process.

“We are very disappointed,” said Hampton. “There are already three deregulation laws that allow schools to opt out of unfunded mandates and exercise local control. This bill makes it very clear this is not about quality public schools, but about eliminating the ability of school employees to speak up for children and schools.”

The negative impacts the bill could have on students include no limit on the money a district could spend on administration, or the savings a district could carry over to the next academic year, which could remove money from classrooms. The requirement for a controlled class size could also be eliminated and would allow local school districts to save money by overloading class rosters.

“It gives them [exempt school districts] charter school status, and I wouldn’t be for that bill,” said Rep. Mike Brown, D-Tahlequah. “You’re actually destroying a lot of work that’s been done the past 15 to 20 years to make schools more accountable. I think if you’re going to hold people to the same standard, then we need to hold everyone to that standard. You’re actually empowering the local board to run amok. I’m not saying our schools would do that, but who’s to say what’s going to happen in the future?”

Hulbert Public Schools Superintendent Dr. David Wilkins said the rural school district “has no plan of applying for any exemptions,” but does support the idea of being able to determine funding for school needs on a local level.

“There are several mandates we do not receive money for, and several requirements that force schools to spend money in certain ways,” said Wilkins. “There are some ways we feel the money could better serve our students. For example, HPS receives about $30,000 for text books ... I would rather spend this money on technology and use online books that are a small fraction of the cost.”

Wilkins said the ability of school districts to govern on a local level could be a benefit for students when preparing for state testing.

“There is a strong move toward a more localized control of schools,” said Wilkins. “Basically, the state is demanding certain testing requirements, but is allowing the school board and administration to make the decisions regarding running the schools and preparing the students for these tests and for graduation. This can be beneficial because it eliminates the cookie-cutter approach to education. What may be great for students in Hulbert may not work for students in Tahlequah.”

As of March 16, the bill had not been assigned to a committee after heading to the House of Representatives.

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