A look at those who lobby at the state Capitol for public education, including tax increases

What does a top contract education lobbyist make in Oklahoma?
Margaret Erling’s lobbying firm makes $75,000 a year lobbying for the Tulsa Public Schools, the state’s second largest school district. The firm garners $50,000 a year as the lobbyist for the Oklahoma City Public Schools.
Fred Jordan’s lobbying firm makes $36,000 a year each lobbying for Jenks Public Schools and Bixby Public Schools.
After our requests, school districts were compelled to release the data by the Open Records Act. Other organizations which were not required by state law to release the data were reluctant to release such figures.

The American Federation of Teachers – Oklahoma, represents teachers working in the Oklahoma City Public Schools. “For local dues, we do not devote any money to lobbying,” said Mary Best, president of the AFT – Oklahoma. 
“The state is the one that employs the lobbying. We get a rebate on some of our dues from the national (organization). Our lobbyist is Luke Martin – we really love him. What we pay him is not enough to sustain him. He works for several other clients,” she commentedf.
When asked what the AFT pays Martin, she said “I don’t think I ought to tell you what he makes – that it’s kind of a personal thing.”

The education lobby is vast. It includes organizations that represent suburban Schools, school boards, the teacher’s union, rural schools and large public school districts.

Dr. John Cox is president of the Organization of Rural Elementary Schools. Phil Ostrander is the organization’s lobbyist. He did not know Ostrander’s pay.
“It’s minimal,” he said of Ostrander’s compensation. He just takes care of us on certain bills, so it’s not like having a full-time lobbyist.”

The Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration has three registered lobbyists, said Susan Hardy Brooks, who is in charge of communications. They include executive director Pam Deering, deputy general counsel Hayley Jones and contract lobbyist Megan Benn. She declined to disclose their compensation.

Kevin Hime is president of the United Suburban Schools Association. Hime said executive director David Pennington, a retired superintendent, does a little bit of time lobbying for the organization.
“He probably goes to the capital sometimes but to say that he’s over there lobbying for us all the time – he’s not over there a whole lot. We like for our organization to be known for professional development for superintendents – that’s kind of our goal.”
“But I’m sure he talks to legislators on various issues from time to time.”
He said that the organization relies on bigger organizations to do lobbying for education.

One of those surely is the Oklahoma Education Association, the largest teacher’s union in the state.
The OEA declined to comment on its lobbying activities, but its leadership has threatened a statewide strike unless a $10,000 teacher raise is passed by the Oklahoma Legislature before April 2.
Its web site lists just two legislative and political organizing specialists – Ivy Riggs and Trent Ratterree – on its regional teams.
While the OEA is large, and understandably flexing its muscle after the recent tax increases, it is not the behemoth it was in days gone by.
While published reports set its membership at 40,000 teachers and education support personnel, its Internal Revenue Service return does not support those kinds of numbers.
In the most recent year, OEA posted total dues from members of $4.52 million, according to its tax return. Dues are between $300 and $400 per member.
Still, the OEA pays its leadership well. President Alicia Priest makes $92,349 annually. Executive director David Duvall earns $152,091 per year, the tax return shows.

Dave Bond, a vice president for with the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, said he believes when it announced the threatened strike, that the teacher’s union made no real effort to offer solutions to education funding.
He said most of the revenue-generating plans that advanced at the Legislature these past few weeks have included higher taxes that teachers will also have to pay out of their salary increase.
Side by side with the OEA are the Oklahoma State School Boards Association and the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration.

(Bond pointed out either OCPA or its affiliates “have publicly proposed across-the-board pay increases for teachers for at least the last four years.”)
“You have groups that push in sync at the capital, the teachers’ unions and the school boards association,” said Bond. “Typically they’re opposing most education reforms.”
One such reform would convert local taxes into pay for teachers. But historically, education lobbyists usually oppose using local (tax) dollars to increase teacher pay, he said.
Getting rid of education mandates is often opposed by the education lobby, said Bond.
He said local taxes usually pay for technology upgrades and capital improvements.

“We have seen in the past two or three years, they’re also getting help from other folks in the organized labor sector, whether that’s the public safety sector, the AFL-CIO, working in tandem with the teacher’s unions.
“While the teachers’ union has been the public face of the (proposed strike), this is the administrators and the school boards trying to pressure the Legislature. They’re the ones that are pushing (the ultimatum).”
Bond said the $10,000 pay raise was an unreasonable expectation that even the teacher’s union probably doesn’t expect to get. But he suspects another agenda.
“Their true desire is to see a Democrat back in the governor’s office and greater numbers of Democrats in the Legislature,” he said.

OCPA believes that spending reforms and education efficiencies could have paid for a teacher salary hike.
One example of that is the Medicaid efficiency audits bill recently signed by the governor.
Another problem is school budgets have skyrocketed with little pay increase for teachers because of the growth in non-teaching personnel, Bond said.
“The growth in non-teaching personnel in the schools has shot up very, very high and has far out paced the rate of growth and of students,’ Bond said. “That disparity in the last 25 years would amount to a teacher pay raise of over $8,000.
If there is a strike, Bond said it will be interesting to see how many come to lobby at the Capitol during that time. His research, echoing that from other sources, indicates only about 30 percent of teachers are union members.

NOTE: Stacy Martin is an award-winning independent journalist. Patrick B. McGuigan is founder of CapitolBeatOK, and editor/publisher of The City Sentinel newspaper in Oklahoma City.