Lawmakers: Solution very much in doubt
Frustration reigned supreme Thursday as five area state legislators answered questions about prospects for a teacher pay raise and increased education funding.
More than 150 people most of them teachers attended a forum in the Eisenhower High School library, most to ask the lawmakers why they can't reach agreement on a plan to reverse the trend of cutting education funding and finally raise teachers' salaries.
Although there was some of the same sentiment expressed by legislators about the rhetoric, more often they were frustrated with their colleagues. Republicans were weary of Democrats, and vice versa. Republicans were frustrated by their leadership, especially in the House of Representatives, by colleagues from energy-producing districts. And practically everyone was exasperated by the system.
It was mostly a civil event, although there were some loud voices from time to time. The meeting was sponsored by Professional Oklahoma Educators, an association for all school personnel.
The meeting had been scheduled almost a month ago, Lawton Public Schools Superintendent Tom Deighan said.
But it happened to occur on the same day that the Oklahoma Education Association announced plans for members to walk out of their classrooms on April 2 if the Legislature hasn't agreed upon a pay raise by April 1.
The legislators who were repeatedly questioned about a timeline for consideration of a raise had mixed feelings on whether the April 1 deadline could be met.
"We will roll out something before April 2," said Rep. Scooter Park, R-Devol.
"I am very optimistic that we will have agreements in place ... before April 2," said Rep. Jeff Coody, R-Grandfield.
Others were not so sanguine.
"You might as well get ready to walk," said Sen. Randy Bass of Lawton, the only Democrat on the panel. "It ain't going to happen."
Rep. Rande Worthen, R-Lawton, also thinks it's unlikely that there will be an agreement by April 1.
"The problem is we don't have any bills started," he said. Legislation is driven not by the members of the House, he said, but by the leadership.
"Unfortunately, we're on this ship but we're not steering it," he said.
Worthen, who is in the second year of his first term, said it's been an eye-opening experience. A large number of representatives are from districts with large oil and gas production and when raising the gross production tax beyond 4 percent is mentioned "people start shaking their heads 'no,'" he said.