Fallin on Thursday signs tax hikes, pay raise

Poteau teachers rally in the rain near the Walmart intersection on Tuesday.
Amanda Corbin, Karalee Eaves and Associated Press
AP Writers and PDN Reporters

(AP) — Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has signed into law the largest teacher pay raise in the state's history and a massive package of tax hikes to pay for the plan.

Flanked by educators and GOP leaders, Fallin on Thursday signed a bill to give public school teachers raises of between 15 and 18 percent, an average boost of about $6,100 a year. She also signed a bill to increase taxes on cigarettes, motor fuel, lodging and oil and gas production that would raise an estimated $450 million for lawmakers to spend.

Tommy Brennan, local Oklahoma Education Association representative, said plans are still in motion for Poteau educators to visit the Capitol in support of funding.

"Poteau schools will be closed Monday so teachers and concerned citizens can go to the Capitol to push for more money for education," Brennan said. "The legislation passed is a great first step but we have a long way to go. Thereafter, on Tuesday school will resume while we work to get more funding for education and supporting candidates that will fully fund education."

According to the National Education Association, the average salary of a teacher in Oklahoma ranks 49th among the U.S. states and District of Columbia with South Dakota and Mississippi the only states reporting lower.

Poteau Superintendent Don Sjoberg said Monday's closure will allow teachers, students and parents to attend the pre-planned education rally.

"We are grateful that Oklahoma's elected officials have come together to make a commitment to public school education and public school educators," Sjoberg said. "Although the recent legislation does not completely restore funding to previous levels, the spirit behind the many hours of work is appreciated. There will still be an effort to advocate for continued elevation of per-pupil funding and teacher salaries in the future, but for now we want to provide this opportunity for everyone to show their support for education here in Oklahoma."

The OEA is still calling for a statewide walkout on Monday, arguing that lawmakers already are working to repeal the lodging tax, which generates nearly $50 million for funding.

Several LeFlore County schools will be closed Monday, either as part of Easter break, the "walkout," snow days or a mixture of the three.

At latest knowledge of the Poteau Daily News, Howe, Heavener, Leflore, Spiro and Shady Point will no longer close and will be open Monday, while Panama, Cameron, Bokoshe, Talihina, Red Oak and Arkoma will be closed. The latest noticed seen published on Facebook Tuesday for Wister Public Schools said Wister would also be closed Monday.

Cameron school staff also posted a notice to Facebook, stating that although teachers are encouraged by the work legislators have done, "We feel that the current plan does not place enough emphasis on one of the most important issues, which is the funding of our students."

Classes at Cameron will close Monday and Tuesday. Lunch will still be provided at the school on those dates. School will resume for the district on Wednesday.