In a constant balancing act of attending to Capitol business and keeping an ear open to constituent concerns, local lawmakers gathered Friday at the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Cultural Heritage Center to visit with area residents.

In a constant balancing act of attending to Capitol business and keeping an ear open to constituent concerns, local lawmakers gathered Friday at the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Cultural Heritage Center to visit with area residents.

Sponsored by Shawnee Forward, a collaborative partnership between the Greater Shawnee Area Chamber of Commerce and the Shawnee Economic Development Foundation (SEDF), the noon meal entertained nearly 40 constituents as state Sen. Ron Sharp, state Rep. Dell Kerbs and state Sen. Jason Smalley offered the latest insight into activities at the state Capitol.

During the hour-long event, the three lawmakers shared their thoughts and then answered a few questions from the gallery.

Sharp spoke of an issue legislators would soon have to address — the four-day versus five-day week for teachers.

“I voted against going to the five-day week,” he said. “As an old teacher, I think it's a good thing to go five days a week, I can see why.”

But, he said things have changed since 2012, when he retired.

“Now, when you have a school like McLoud that went to the four-day week, they don't have the ad valorem there to pay teachers when a teacher can go down the road in Harrah and get an $1,100 raise or go to Choctaw and get a $2,000 raise,” he said. “That presents a problem.”

So the only way the McLoud superintendent says he can keep teachers is by going to the four-day week, Sharp said.

“That's a local board decision,” he said. “I can also understand from a business point-of-view that it's not a good idea to go to four days a week.”

Sharp also discussed the need to have and keep certified teachers.

“You cannot get an accredited degree without certified teachers,” he said.

Sharp said in watching how the state spends money, he is very concerned about a particular virtual school, which receives state dollars.

“Right now they are saying they have 23,000 students,” he said. “If we're no careful, within two to three years from now that could be 50,000 kids in just the one school.”

Sharp said to have 100-percent attendance there, students only have to do one assignment per day, and go 44 days, which is a quarter of the time required of traditional classrooms.

“That is a disaster,” he said. “And that's how they are getting out of Shawnee, Dale, McLoud schools, which have to go 180 days.”

It's not fair how the system is working, he said.

“You can't audit you way out of this,” he said. “The only way is to address the financial funding of it.”

Among other things, Kerbs shared information about a new bill aimed at stopping — literally — drivers from passing school buses while their lights are flashing.

House Bill 1926, authored by Kerbs, addresses bus transportation.

“It talks about letting our law enforcement use video surveillance systems on buses to be a witness to crime,” he said. “If you're going to pass these school buses, that video can serve as a witness and (law enforcement) can send you a fine in the mail.”

Kerbs said, nationally, 135 children are killed each year by people that are in too much of a hurry and go around a school bus with its lights on.

“Out of that, 15-plus million reported incidents happened last school year,” he said.

On an 180-school day calendar, he said that is 83,000-plus people in the nation that are in too much of a hurry to stop for a bus unloading children.

“That's unacceptable to me,” he said. “That's not even an option; that's where this bill came from.”

What happens now, he said, is if you pass a school bus with its lights on, your potential (local) fine is going to be $250.

“On top of that, this bill will add a $100 fee,” Kerbs said.

He said $75 of that will go into a revolving fund that schools can use to buy the video monitoring systems for their buses.

“It's a self-funding program,” he said.

Smalley talked a bit about how both sides of the aisle at the Capitol have similar budget goals for the most part, but with differences in the details of how to accomplish them.

“I know the budget process probably seems like it's going pretty well, but I do think it's probably two trains on the same track headed toward one another when it comes down to being able to decide what we want to pay for and what we don't want to,” Smalley said. “I think both the House and the Senate want to spend an upwards of $120 million to $150 million to common education.”

He said the Senate wants to do it all in the common education fund and allow the local school districts to do what they want with it, while the House and Gov. Stitt prefers to earmark $77 million as a par raise and the rest of it go to classrooms.

“It's the same sum amount, it's just the optics in how the halves are going to side, and that's going to really come up with negotiations,” he said. “I think that's across the board — with the DOC and health funding, as well. There are a few numbers are off, not by a lot, but are also subjected to the making some policy statements and how members are going to be able to feel on whether or not they are comfortable.”

All three lawmakers discussed other topics, also, during the regular meeting with constituents.

To attend the next legislative luncheon from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 26 at Citizen Potawatomi Nation's Cultural Heritage Center, call Shawnee Forward at (405) 273-6092.