The Duncan Banner

May 19, 2013

State budget cuts push educators into early retirement

Terry Davidson, Superintendent of Comanche Public School District
The Duncan Banner

COMANCHE — Oklahoma has made some of the deepest cuts in the nation in education funding in recent years, third only to Arizona and Alabama. According to the Oklahoma Policy Institute, “Over the last five years, the state has cut per-pupil education aid for primary and secondary schools by 20 percent, or $706 per student.” At Comanche Public Schools, those cuts translate to $770,000.

Historically, Oklahoma is at or near the bottom in the nation in funding for schools and salaries for teachers. Cuts from those already low levels are impossible to absorb without negatively impacting students. At Comanche Schools, we have reduced costs in administration and operations to a point where they can’t be reduced any more. Unfortunately, the cuts have also affected our instructional program so that class sizes are larger and students are having less access to electives. In 2010, members of Comanche’s leadership team voluntarily reduced their salaries for a savings of $40,000, enough to save a teaching position. In spite of our best efforts, we haven’t been able to balance our budget.

To avoid further damage to our instructional programs, we have operated this current year with a deficit in excess of $300,000, reducing our fund balance to less than $100,000, hoping for some relief from the legislature. That hope was based on the fact that, during the last two years, the State of Oklahoma has operated with a surplus, placing record amounts in the “rainy day” fund. Instead of increasing funding for education, legislative leaders and the governor have agreed to a budget deal that includes a tax cut that, when fully implemented, will reduce state revenues by $237 million. For the average middle income family, the tax savings will be about $2.50 per month. Media reports indicate an increase in education funding in the new budget. The truth is that per-pupil revenues will continue to decrease.  

For several years, faculty members in Comanche have chosen to file for retirement benefits and come back to work for the limited salary allowed by the Oklahoma Teacher Retirement System (OTRS).

Several are working full-time for a fraction of their former salary. This has resulted in thousands of dollars in savings for the school district and has saved many teaching positions.  

After forty years in education, I am following the example of these dedicated professionals and have chosen to file for retirement benefits. This action requires that I submit my resignation, which I will do at the May board of education meeting, with an effective date of May 23rd. After the required OTRS sixty-day waiting period, I will offer my services as a full-time superintendent for the limited OTRS salary amount. The savings to the school district will be enough to save two teaching positions. This action, along with a decision to not fill any vacancies, will be helpful in our efforts to balance the school district budget.    

This is likely not the wisest financial decision for me personally, but, in light of the current financial situation, I feel strongly that it’s the right thing to do. During the last eighteen years, you have supported our efforts to improve this school district. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve in this special place and look forward to more great accomplishments in the future.

I am hopeful that our elected leaders in Oklahoma will eventually understand that an important key to future success is directly related to our willingness to invest in the education of our young people.