MUSKOGEE, Okla. — Area schools could get $5,000 more for each teacher if voters pass a penny sales tax initiative Nov. 8.

The state sales tax proposed in State Question 779 would help fund teacher pay raises and other academic initiatives in each school district. The Oklahoma State School Boards Association estimates the one-cent tax could generate more than $427 million for Oklahoma school districts.

However, city leaders worry about how an added sales tax could affect their communities. Sales tax is the main source of revenue for city services, including streets, police and fire protection, said Tahlequah Mayor Jason Nichols.

Muskogee Mayor Bob Coburn said Muskogee has a 9.5 percent total tax rate, including 4.5 percent to the state, .066 percent to Muskogee County and 4 percent to the city. The extra penny proposed by SQ 779 would put local sales taxes above 10 cents per dollar, he said.

He said the state tax would make it hard for cities to pass a sales tax locally.

“I don’t think the tax is a way to fix education,” Coburn said.

Under the SQ 779 proposal, 69.5 percent of the sales tax revenue would go to school districts, with the rest going to higher education, career tech and early childhood. School districts are to spend 86.33 percent of the allocation for teacher recruitment, including a $5,000 pay raise per teacher. The remainder goes toward student achievement incentives such as reading and college/career readiness.

“It all goes back to the need for quality teachers,” said Muskogee Public Schools Superintendent Mike Garde. “There were 2,100 emergency teacher certifications in the state last month. That indicates our young college people are not choosing to teach, because the job is not valued. Something needs to be done to bring the teaching profession more in line with the other professions in our region. The bottom line is we need the best teacher in every classroom in this city and in this state.”

According to OSSBA figures, Muskogee Public Schools could get $3.7 million from the state sales tax revenue. Of that, $3.2 million would go to faculty recruitment and retention and  $507,581 would go to academic initiatives. The figure was based on an average daily attendance of 9,626 students.

Hilldale would get $1.1 million with $958,261 going to faculty recruitment/retention and $151,753 going to academic initiatives. The figure was based on an average daily attendance of 2,877 students.

Fort Gibson would also would get $1.1 million, with $963,868 going to faculty recruitment/retention and $152,640 going to academic initiatives. The figure is based on an average daily attendance of 2,894 students.

Fort Gibson Superintendent Derald Glover said he would not have proposed a state sales tax to fund teacher pay raises. 

However, Glover said, “I think it’s the only solution we have.”

He said the State Legislature had failed to act in fully funding education over the past year.

Nichols also said the Legislature failed to adequately fund education this year.

He said the sales tax proposed in SQ 779 is “short-sighted and regressive.”

“But unless something comes up in my official capacity, I’m very likely to be weighing this question in my mind until I walk into the voting booth,” Nichols said.

He said Tahlequah’s total sales tax rate is 9.5 percent, including 4.5 percent to the state, 1.75 percent to Cherokee County and 3.25 for city and schools.

Lindsay, Anadarko, Edmond and four other Oklahoma cities have passed resolutions opposing the sales tax. The OML website did not list any Muskogee-area cities passing such resolutions.

Coburn said he has not heard whether the Muskogee council would support it.

Nichols said it would be hard to predict how Tahlequah officials would vote, considering the city’s “history of commitment and connection to education.”

Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or cspaulding@muskogeephoenix.com.

Projected Sales Tax Revenue

Expected revenue school districts could receive from a proposed state sales tax:

Muskogee County

Muskogee, $3,712,767

Hilldale, $1,110,013

Fort Gibson, $1,116.508

Braggs, $134,350.

Haskell, $531,429

Oktaha, $453,907

Porum, $310,500

Wainwright, $74,362

Warner, $479,351

Webbers Falls, $479,351

Cherokee County

Briggs, $313,736

Cherokee Immersion Charter School, $61,654.

Grand View, $418,526

Hulbert, $366,125

Keys, $479,251

Lowrey, $97,354

Norwood, $135,049

Peggs, $159,139

Shady Grove, $116,897

Tahlequah, $2,319,190

Tenkiller, $223,424

Woodall, $308,625 

McIntosh County

Checotah, $996,135

Eufaula, $775,299

Midway, $169,596

Stidham, $79,843

Sequoyah County

Gore, $284,056

Wagoner County

Okay, $265,458

Porter, $341,039

Wagoner, $1,424,590

Source: Oklahoma State School Boards Association. 

Cathy Spaulding writes for the Muskogee Phoenix.

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