Once Upon A Time


We’re approaching (Saturday, October 15, 2016) the 25th anniversary of the “No Repeal” vote on October 15, 1991 which sealed the implementation of what was arguably our state’s greatest legislative achievement—House Bill 1017 that Governor Henry Bellmon signed into law at Tulsa’s Marshall Elementary School on April 25, 1990.  Since this blog is supposed to be about correcting misinformation spewing from the other OCPA I looked quickly at their recent posts for a connection and it didn’t take long to find a connection.

Senior Vice President Brandon Dutcher, in anticipation of Labor Day, on a post dated August 31, 2016 alleges the Oklahoma Education Association, as a union for teachers, has failed them because teachers “should demand to know why an education system with $8.7 billion in total revenue last year, the most in state history, can’t seem to raise teacher pay.”  Click on “raise teacher pay” and you get his March 4, 2016 blog “The $7,000 Teacher Pay Raise That Wasn’t”.

I will have fun in the future fully vetting that post but the gist of it is that school districts across the country and in Oklahoma during recent decades have increased “non-teaching” staff at higher rates than the number of teachers.  If all those non-teachers had not been hired since 1993, at the rate of $50,000 each annually (you have to listen to the video for this number), then there would have been enough money to give Oklahoma teachers the $7,000 raise.  He even cites my district, Sand Springs, to illustrate this horrible imbalance.

For a very quick and dirty response I know that by far the largest work group of non-teachers at Sand Springs are teacher assistants and are second only to the number of teachers in the district.  A safe estimate we would use for the annual cost of a teacher assistant position was $25,000.  The next largest employee groups would be cafeteria workers, bus drivers and custodians, with virtually all, like the teacher assistants, working 180 day contracts.  Using a $50,000 average to get to the $7,000 raise makes no sense and is shabby math.

Now for the transition to House Bill 1017:  it promoted the use of teacher assistants as a cost effective way to provide more individualized services to younger students because the expansion of Kindergarten and 4-year-old programs were two of its primary reforms and are probably the largest drivers of the increase in teacher assistant positions.  The genesis of H.B. 1017 was the work of Task Force 2000, established by HJR 1003 in 1989, and appointed by Governor Bellmon, Speaker Steve Lewis and President Pro Tem Bob Cullison.  It was chaired by Tulsa businessman George Singer; other members included Howard Barnett, now President of OSU-Tulsa, then State Superintendent John Folks, Wilma Mankiller, Tulsa businessman Joseph Parker, Jr., and our last Tulsa County Superintendent Kara Gae Wilson (now Neal).

Governor Bellmon called the Legislature into special session on November 6, 1989 to receive the Task Force 2000 report “Oklahoma’s Public Education:  A Blueprint for Excellence” and to act on education reform legislation.  Beginning on November 15, when House Bill 1017, incorporating many of the report’s recommendations, passed the House but without the emergency clause, there ensued months of deliberations, conferences and votes (including a statewide teacher walkout in advance of the House passage of the emergency clause) with final Senate approval coming on April 19, 1990 and the Governor’s approval on April 25.

This historic education reform legislation included a funding increase initially of $230 million by a 1% hike in the income tax rate and 0.5% in the sales tax rate.  The funding legacy of HB 1017 is that in FY 2016 the “HB 1017 Fund” was $886 million, over 1/3 of public schools’ funding.  It also provided for greater equity in the funding formula to narrow the gap between property tax rich and poor districts.  The minimum teacher salary was increased from $15,060, in 1990, to $24,060, in 1995; it is now $31,600.

The funding also provided for greatly expanded early childhood education; mandatory kindergarten; school district consolidation incentives (resulting in a reduction from 609 to 550 districts); limiting class sizes to 20 for elementary and 140 per day for secondary teachers.  The reforms also included provision for teacher assistants, eliminating county superintendents, statewide curriculum standards, competency testing, college ready courses, alternative certification for teachers and mandatory professional development.  The existing teacher tenure law was replaced with providing for teacher dismissal due process hearings to be held before local school boards.

After passage of this landmark reform legislation, opponents organized and collected signatures for an initiative petition to repeal of HB 1017.  Governor Bellmon set October 15, 1991 as the election date for State Question 639.  Statewide campaigns for Vote Yes Repeal and Vote No Repeal ensued.  On election day a record number voted with an especially huge turnout for No Repeal in northeast Oklahoma.

Result:   Yes  360,318  45.67%

No   428,680  54.33%

HB 1017 remains Oklahoma law.

Epilogue:   SQ 640 immediately circulated by opponents of HB 1017, passed with 56% of vote in March, 1992, requiring 3/4 vote of legislature to increase any tax.

Personal Note:   As a former school board member and elected city official I was so used to voting Yes on ballot measures that I reflexively did just that and, for the first and only time as a voting citizen, had to “spoil” my ballot and ask for another so I could vote No.

Remember lunch on me if you guess the photo location.

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