Senate Republicans announced a plan Thursday that will be presented to the Governor and House to provide an additional $200 million to Common Education. This is significantly more than the $120 million that has been proposed through previous budget negotiations.  It would provide $70 million for the $1,200 teacher pay raise as well as $130 million for classroom and other school needs. 

            Deciding how to handle the teacher raises is what’s holding up the budget agreement. Senate Republicans want to allow for local control and let the districts decide how the funding should be spent. The House and Governor want a mandatory across-the-board $1,200 pay raise. The problem with this is that many districts are already paying well above the minimum salary schedule and they want to put more money into the classroom. 

            As a former teacher, I’m elated for our schools and educators but I’m disappointed for our state employees.  Like educators, it’d been nearly a decade since they had received an across-the-board raise and then they only got $500-$2,000 based on their salary compared to the average $6,000 teacher raise.

A $2,500 pay raise bill for Oklahoma’s 32,500 state employees, many of whom are overworked and underpaid, died in the process. We’ll have to see if the issue is revived in this week’s budget negotiations.

Two more bills that would have provided them some financial relief were also killed by the legislature. 

Some state employees get overtime pay while a majority gets comp time. Some agencies require their workers to use their comp time the same month it’s earned while others are allowed to earn up to 160 hours of comp time annually but have to use it by December 1 or they lose it.

However, following nearly a decade of budget cuts, many agencies are severely short staffed from layoffs and turnover leaving those left taking on multiple people’s responsibilities and working longer hours.  Because there aren’t enough employees, most aren’t being allowed to take off to use their annual or comp time and are losing it.  Do you see the unfairness? A pitiful raise last year after nearly a decade of no raise of any kind and then they’re also losing the annual and comp time they’ve legally earned through their hard work.

HB 2465, which failed, would have required all state employees making less than $31,000 annually to receive overtime pay rather than comp time for everything over 40 hours per week.

Constitutionally, state employees are allowed to carry up to 480 hours of annual leave and lose any unused hours above that amount at the end of each year.  They can use sick leave for retirement but are paid for their annual leave upon quitting or retiring.

Again, due to the short staffing and high turnover, employees are working overtime and not being allowed to take off. When they hit that 480 hour annual leave cap, they simply lose their hard-earned vacation benefit.  The state is essentially stealing thousands of hours of benefits from state employees annually.

I was the Senate author of HB 1953, which would have ensured state employees who aren’t able to use their annual leave are still compensated for that time.  It would’ve allowed agencies to voluntarily buy up to 200 hours of an employee’s unused annual leave as long as they still at least 120 hours remaining.

            Nearly ten percent of state agency employees lose annual leave each month because they’ve hit the 480 hour cap but can’t or aren’t allowed to take time off.    

OMES verified it had no fiscal impact as state agencies are legally-required to budget for the possibility of any and all employees quitting or retiring so the money is already available. It would’ve also saved the state money as it’s cheaper to compensate employees periodically throughout their career rather than providing one large lump sum when they quit or retire and their salary is at its highest. 

Hopefully, in upcoming budget negotiations or next session, the legislature will be more considerate of these hardworking public servants who keep our state moving. 

            To contact me at the Capitol, please write to Senator Ron Sharp, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 412, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105, email me at sharp@oksenate.gov, or call (405) 521-5539.