In April, a statewide teacher walkout forced legislators to dig deep for ways to fund a pay increase. One such concession is coming up for a vote in November.

In April, a statewide teacher walkout forced legislators to dig deep for ways to fund a pay increase. One such concession is coming up for a vote in November.

Filed Aug. 2, Gov. Mary Fallin submitted State Question 801 for placement on the Fall election ballot — a measure that would allow ad valorem dollars to be used for school operations, such as teacher salaries.

SQ 801 (also known as Senate Joint Resolution 70) would allow the $5 million ad valorem assessment — known as the Building Fund levy, which is collected by a school district that had been constitutionally dedicated for school building maintenance — to be used for the district's operational costs.

There is not an increase in revenue for a school district under SQ 801. State Sen. Ron. Sharp said it merely allows a transfer of funds into different accounts.

“The problem with the increase in maintenance costs, such as electricity, natural gas, security, etc.,” he said, “is the $5 million building levy does not currently cover these costs to the districts.”

Using that funding to pay for operational costs would trigger an either/or situation; those dollars would not then be used on maintenance as originally intended.

“All school facilities would suffer from disrepair if this revenue was not available by utilizing it for teacher salaries,” Sharp said.

FFA facilities, school buildings, roofs, all would have problems of maintenance repair, he said.

Under the Oklahoma constitution, ad valorem — property tax levies and bonds — cannot be used for operational costs, such as teacher salaries.

If approved, Sharp said this would eliminate that constitutional restriction.

He said the Building Fund already has some flexibility; school districts can pay the salaries for support personnel and security from this fund.

“But, again, most school districts in rural Oklahoma do not have the ad valorem assessment base to pay for building maintenance,” Sharp said. “Rich districts that are off the formula of receiving state aid already have the revenue in their general funds to pay support personnel and security staff salaries.”

Another potential loss

With the apparent lack of funds in this Building Fund, Sharp said, in his opinion, the obvious intended purpose by legislators in submitting this as a state question is to allow charter school districts the ability to capture ad valorem local dollars.

“There is a current lawsuit filed by the State Charter Schools Association that seeks local ad valorem dollars,” he said.

Presently, the case is pending.

If SQ 801 is enacted, Sharp said the availability of those local dollars could be determined by the state courts as accessible.

“Charter school districts relate they are public schools,” he said. “However, the most accurate description of charter school districts is they are private schools at public expense.”

Sharp said the reallocation of local ad valorem dollars from the traditional public school districts to charter districts would be devastating.

“Charter school districts already capture off-the-top state-appropriated dollars,” he said. “What state dollars are left go to poorer school districts on the equalization formula because their local ad valorem assessment is too low to cover the cost of educating children.”

When more than 93 percent of Oklahoma's children attend the traditional public schools, they should be our first priority, Sharp said.

“Needless to say, I debated against this proposed constitutional amendment,” he said.

SQ 801 goes before voters Nov. 6.