Oklahoma City residents will pay a ¼ of 1 percent extra income tax to support local schools if voters approve a plan by one pro public education group.
Save our Oklahoma City Schools Coalition held a news conference on the steps of City of Oklahoma City Hall Thursday to explain the plan.
“The City of Oklahoma City is not getting adequate help from the federal government and the state government,” said OKC Councilman Ed Shadid who started the series of speakers in support of the measure.
“We think that the people of Oklahoma City have a right to determine how much they want to invest in Oklahoma City Public Schools.”
The group contends that when it comes to schools, the people of Oklahoma City are ready to overcome their historic aversion to raising money through taxation.
“Polling indicates widespread support across a wide array of demographics to support raising additional revenue to stop the financial bleeding of Oklahoma City Public Schools,” said Shadid.
“We all have an aversion to paying more tax, right? But the realization that we have a funding crisis is overcoming that aversion to tax,” Shadid told Free Press afterward.
The councilman, school leaders and other community leaders were not successful in recent attempts to get the Oklahoma City Council to carve out a quarter of a new sales tax the council wanted to improve streets as well as police and fire protection.
After much discussion and a surprise request by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce to increase the tax rate, the council decided to send a temporary one cent sales tax and a ¼ of a cent permanent increase in sales tax to the voters Sept. 13.
If passed by voters, all the temporary one cent will be used for street improvement and the ¼ permanent tax increase will be used to improve police and fire protection.
And so, this is a different attempt to achieve their same goal of finding more local money to bolster city school districts and encourage teachers as public-school proponents continue to push for more state funding.
Save our Oklahoma City Schools claims that Oklahoma statutes would allow their plan of collecting local income taxes and granting those to the school districts if voters approve.
They contend that statutes only prohibit cities collecting income taxes from nonresidents who might live outside city limits but work in the city.
Shadid said that they will need around 12,000 signatures to get the petition on the ballot in the fall.
Once attorneys have crafted the petition to withstand a legal challenge, the group plans to start circulating the petition over the July 4 weekend.
If it makes it to the ballot, voters will be able to choose one, both or none of the income taxes.
One will yield bonuses for teachers, nurses and support staff, but not administrators.
The other will be to reduce class size by hiring more teachers.
Some of the leaders who spoke Wednesday were not shy in criticizing the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce and the legislature for heading off funding for public schools.
“We’ve asked the Chamber of Commerce, which vigorously opposed SQ 779 and countless elected officials to put forward a plan, an alternative plan and none has been forwarded,” said Shadid.
State Question 779 would have added millions into the state budget for public schools, but was defeated.
Public school advocates, especially in Oklahoma City, are still angry with the OKC Chamber for heavily funding the campaign against SQ 779.
Rev. Lori Walke concluded that if the petition is put on the ballot, Oklahoma City residents will be able to do more.
“The citizens of Oklahoma City are going to do what a state question, the state Legislature, and a majority of the city council all failed to do: support the teachers and the children of our city with our wallets,” Walke said.
“We are going to put our money where our mouth is because we believe our city is worth it,” said Walke. “We believe teachers deserve pay that reflects the high regard we have for their work.”
Paula Lewis, Oklahoma City Public Schools board chair sounded a dire warning:
“If education is not succeeding then we see that pipeline to prison.”
Will citizens support?
We talked with two of the leaders who stood with the group during the news conference and asked both if they thought it was going to be a heavy lift to get OKC voters to impose an additional income tax on themselves.
“So many of us are touched by these school districts. Our kids are in these districts. We have family members that are working for these districts. We go to church with these folks. This is personal,” said Rev. Jesse Jackson.
“I don’t know that we can afford not to do this. This is our future that we are talking about,” he said.
T. Sheri Dickerson is the executive director of Black Lives Matter, Oklahoma. She was upbeat about the possibilities of passing the measure.
“With us raising the awareness and providing the correct amount of education about what our goals are, I can’t see them not wanting to be,” Dickerson said.