Asking school districts to tap their carryover funds to cover the cost of boosting teachers’ pay is a bad idea, a state lawmaker said Wednesday.

School districts rely on carryover funds to help pay their bills whenever they are waiting on state aid to tide them over, said Rep. Todd Thomsen. He noted that using carryover funds to cover teacher pay raises would remove that cushion.

“I don’t see how that could even be considered as a wise option for a state teacher pay raise,” said Thomsen, an Ada Republican who serves on the House Conference Committee on Common Education.

State Superintendent Janet Barresi has asked local school districts to consider tapping their carryover funds and reducing overhead costs so they could boost teachers’ salaries by $2,000 a year without legislative action. She unveiled her proposal at a candidates forum on Saturday, then repeated her challenge to school districts on Monday.

“With only a 10 percent reduction in carryover and a 2 percent cut in overhead, we can give every teacher in Oklahoma a $2,000 raise,” Barresi wrote in a column, which appeared in Tuesday’s edition of the Tulsa World. “That $2,000 would move Oklahoma teachers ahead of their counterparts in Arkansas and nearly tie Missouri’s teacher salaries. The pay gap with Texas would be slashed by more than half.

“It’s not everything our teachers deserve, but it’s a start.”

She estimated that the plan would cost about $100 million a year, which would come from districts’ carryover funds and discretionary spending accounts.

Barresi won the state superintendent’s job three years ago, but she may have a difficult time holding onto it in 2014. The prospect of replacing her has drawn three Democratic challengers, who will square off in the 2014 primary.

Barresi also faces an intraparty challenge from Tulsa Republican Joy Hofmeister, a former state school board member who resigned to seek the superintendent’s post.


carryover funds

Barresi’s proposal drew criticism from lawmakers and educators who said it would require school districts to raid their carryover funds to cover an annual expense.

Sen. Susan Paddack said she believes that teachers deserve raises, and she supports the idea of increasing their pay. But she said Barresi’s proposal is not the right way to achieve that goal.

“There are (school) districts in my district that don’t have enough money in their carryovers to do that kind of raise,” said the Ada Democrat, who serves on the Senate Education Committee and the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education. “And furthermore, it’s not a sustainable model.”

Paddack said that carryover funds are a one-time source of money, which vary from school district to school district.

Ada City Schools Superintendent Pat Harrison also said he agreed with Barresi that teachers deserve a raise, but he disliked her recommendation of tapping carryover funds to fund the increases.

“Her idea to pay for the increase from carryover funds is poor fiscal management, especially in our current climate of declining funds,” he wrote in an email to an Ada News reporter. “To pay a recurring expense like salaries from a one-time revenue source is a really bad idea, in my opinion. Salaries go on year after year; when you spend your savings, they are gone for good.”

Latta Superintendent Cliff Johnson said he also supports the idea of giving teachers a pay raise, but Barresi’s plan is the wrong approach. He said the plan would require school districts to dedicate part of their annual carryover funds to salary increases.

“That $2,000 is going to have to be paid year after year after year,” he said.