ADA — State teachers could soon see reform come to the current Oklahoma Teachers' Retirement System (OTRS) if lawmakers pass a newly proposed Educators Extended Service Incentive Plan (EESIP) in the upcoming legislative session.

Byng School Superintendent Steven Crawford and State Senator Susan Paddack, in addition to various state representatives, teamed up over a year ago to create legislation which would provide equity to Oklahoma's veteran teachers.

With 33 years under his belt as an educator, Crawford explained to a room full of local teachers and administrators Wednesday, the current two-tiered teacher retirement system is unfair to "Rule of 80" participants. "Rule of 80" members are teachers whose age combined with the number of years of service equal 80, if years of service began prior to 1992.

He said these members pay more into the system and often receive smaller benefits than members of the other state retirement systems.

The proposed EESIP, also called "The Wear Away Plan," would remove a $40,000 salary cap now used to calculate benefits for "Rule of 80" members and would allow those teachers to receive greater benefits for past years of service, according to a recent statement from State Rep. Dan Sullivan, R - Tulsa.

"Oklahoma has the only educational retirement system in the country with a cap on benefits and is the only state retirement system in Oklahoma with a cap," Crawford said.

Crawford urged educators to write to Oklahoma lawmakers in support of this legislation and stressed, "This is not about the schools, this is about individuals being treated fairly."

A concerned voice from the crowd agreed, "The worst thing that could happen is lawmakers would decide not to pass this bill because a lack of support showed them it must not be too important."

"Teachers pay in more and receive lesser benefits than other state employees." Crawford said.

Ada School Superintendent Pat Harrison agreed, "The current plan is really not equitable when compared to the other state retirement systems."

The EESIP would initially cost $23 million to incorporate but would stabilize the current system that authoring lawmakers believe unfairly penalizes veteran teachers.

Crawford said, "We have to revive it from the grass roots up. I do believe this will keep quality educators in Oklahoma classrooms. And that is my goal."

According to the Oklahoma Education Association, "During the 2006 legislative session, Oklahoma lawmakers and the governor will have the opportunity to rectify the disparity of benefits between public educators and their colleagues in the other state pension systems."