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January 26, 2005

Hilliard files pay raise bill for teachers of deaf and blind

From: Pauls Valley Daily Democrat - Pauls Valley,OK,USA - Jan 26, 2005

OKLAHOMA CITY - Teachers at the Oklahoma School for the Deaf and Oklahoma School for the Blind will receive pay raises this year if a freshman lawmaker has his way.

House Bill 1435, by Rep. Wes Hilliard, D-Sulphur, would give teachers at the Oklahoma School for the Deaf and Oklahoma School for the Blind the same pay raises approved last year for teachers at public schools.

"When I researched the issue I realized that the teachers at both schools were inadvertently left out of the pay increase and were still tied to the old salary schedule," Hilliard said. "This bill will correct that oversight."

Legislation approved during the 2004 session paid for 100 percent of teacher health insurance and outlined a plan for increasing teacher pay over the next four years until it reaches the regional average of $38,527.

Oklahoma's average teacher salary in 2004 stood at $34,877.

Under the current proposal, teachers with five to nine years of experience will receive annual raises of $600 over the next four years while educators with 20 to 24 years of experience will receive annual increases of $1,200.

The first increase in teacher pay is scheduled to go into effect this year at a cost of $48 million, with three more $48 million raises scheduled over the three succeeding years.

Hilliard's bill would ensure that teachers at the Oklahoma School for the Deaf and Oklahoma School for the Blind are included in that raise. Both groups were omitted from last year's pay raise because the two schools receive their funding through the Department of Rehabilitation Services and not through the Department of Education.

"The teachers at the Oklahoma Schools for the Deaf and Blind provide a valuable service to Oklahomans and it is my job to be a watchdog for them and make sure they are treated as equal to our public school teachers," said Hilliard, whose district includes the School for the Deaf.

"Because of their unique situation, the teachers at the schools for the deaf and blind are often inadvertently overlooked. They work for a state agency and not the Department of Education, but they meet the certification requirements of the State Department of Education.

"As a result, they're caught in a classic catch-22. When it comes to state employee pay raises they do not qualify because they are teachers, but they didn't get teacher pay raises because they were employed through a state agency.

"This bill will require the Department of Rehabilitation to give them the same pay increase that public school teachers will receive."

State Sen. Johnnie Crutchfield, D-Ardmore, has agreed to sponsor the legislation in the Senate. State Rep. Barbara Staggs, D-Muskogee, has signed on as a House co-author. Staggs's district includes the School for the Blind.

House Bill 1435 also states that any additional minimum salary schedule enacted by the Legislature and the Commission shall meet or exceed any other legislatively mandated pay raises for teachers that are not part of the minimum salary schedule.

© 2005 Pauls Valley Daily Democrat