Edmond City Council members unanimously endorsed a resolution Monday in opposition to State Question 779 in order to protect the city’s general fund. Supporters of SQ 779 defended the measure.
Registered voters in Oklahoma will be asked on the Nov. 8 statewide ballot whether to approve SQ 779. Approving the measure would create an additional 1 percent sales tax in the state to be deposited into the Oklahoma Education Improvement Fund.
Part of the funding would provide a $5,000 teacher pay raise across-the-board in Oklahoma.
Edmond Public Schools Superintendent Bret Towne provided a statement for City Council members, “We continue to lose veteran teachers due to low pay because we are exporting our teacher talent to other states. It is a shame that we are using state resources to train teachers only to have them leave. We desperately need a solution to address the teacher shortage.”
Oklahoma ranks sixth in the nation for overall combined sales tax and we would rank first with the passage of State Question 779, said Charles Lamb, mayor.
“A high national ranking would negatively impact economic development on Oklahoma and also negatively impact the poorest households in Oklahoma,” Lamb continued.
The city’s sales tax is 3.25 percent. It is added to the 4.5 percent state sales tax.
Oklahoma remains the only state where municipalities rely entirely on sales tax revenues to fund their general fund.
Lamb pointed out that the state ranks 48th in the nation for educational outcomes while teachers remain in need of a pay increase.
“Oklahoma lawmakers have systematically eroded funding for education,” Lamb said.
Lamb said improvements in state education did not occur after the state’s landmark legislation of House Bill 1017, the Education Reform Act of 1990.
SQ 779 would jeopardize cities’ and town’s funding support for public safety and other operations, Lamb said.
Sixty-nine and one-half percent of the tax collection would be apportioned among common school districts according to the state aid formula for common education in effect.
Nineteen and one-quarter percent of the collection would go to improving college affordability, or improve higher education.
Lamb said the City of Edmond does not oppose teacher pay raises, but those pay raises should be brought by the state Legislature. A sales tax is the wrong vehicle to promote education, he said.
More comments came on the Council’s opposition to the education investment and teacher pay raise.
Summer Mills, parent of Centennial Elementary students in Edmond Public Schools, said, “A community is only as strong as its schools. My family moved here because of the great schools. We are at risk of losing that right now.
“Every day we fail to act on a solution to the teacher shortage is a day I worry my children won’t have a quality teacher guiding their learning. It’s disappointing that our city officials are opposing school investments.”
Alicia Blair, Edmond resident and Oklahoma teacher, said, “Time and time again, I’ve seen teachers leave the classroom because they have to choose between the profession they love and earning a livable wage.”
Theresa Alexander, a University of Central Oklahoma student, said, “As a college student working to finish my degree, I think we’ve got to make it easier, not harder, for people to continue learning after high school, especially in today’s economy. It’s becoming more difficult with the recent cuts to higher-ed and news of colleges raising tuition. That’s why I’m supporting State Question 779, and I’m disappointed by the city council’s opposition.”
City Councilman Nick Massey said none of the Council members are opposed to teacher pay increases.
“I hope people will understand this is not the way to do it. The unintended consequences are so severe to cities and municipalities across the state,” Massey said. “I think you will find most cities in Oklahoma will oppose it for the reasons we described.”
Massey agreed that educators across Oklahoma are underfunded and deserve a pay raise.
“That should be done by your state legislature, not by a sales tax,” Massey said.
Councilwoman Elizabeth Waner agreed with Massey by saying they must protect the services they provide to city residents.