Even though Tulsa, Oklahoma has a new tax package known as “Vision Tulsa” that shows a commitment to teachers, it might not be enough — the tax plan has limitations that disallow city taxes to affect state responsibilities such as teacher salaries.
But Tulsa Public School Superintendent Deborah Gist remembers that the mayor and the city councilors have said, “Education matters.”
“It matters tremendously to the success of Tulsa, so they worked with us to figure out a way to include it — to find the kinds of things that would be appropriate and put those in the package.”
As the city’s leaders have spent several years working on the tax package, one question that being asked is, “Why spend tax money on anything but teachers’ salaries?”
Gist answers that question by explaining that the city is not allowed to do it. Oklahoma’s education system gets its initial operating money from the state. The state collects ad valorem taxes and state taxes and combines them at the state level to distribute the dollars to state school districts.
All this means that to pay teacher salaries, recruit teachers and retain them, municipalities have to get inventive.
Coming to a vote on April 5, Vision Tulsa has a couple of projects targeted at Tulsa schools and the Jenks and Union districts as well.
The first project is focused on a $10 million fund to establish incentives for teacher recruitment and retention. It would also pay for a training program and additional certification, along with a housing-assistance program designed to attract new teachers.
The second project is a $14.5 million measure that would fund new sidewalks, lighting, crosswalk striping and other items needed by schools to ensure that children can walk to school safely.
Gist said she thought this plan was a good way for the city to support education — not by paying salaries, but by increasing students’ safety and recruiting and keeping teachers.
Councilor Anna America said that the Safety First Initiative is essential because, in the last five years, 15 children have been injured or killed while walking to or from school. She added that about 100 schools, 80 in Tulsa, 16 in Union, and five in Jenks, will benefit from this new safety project.
The Vision Tulsa plan that city leaders are asking voters to approve will cost $900 million. Along with the education-related projects, the money will also be used to encourage tourism, writes KTUL-TV’s Kimberly Jackson.
Tulsa has been a supporter of BMX national racing for years, but Tulsa may soon become the national headquarters for the sport. There is also an allotted $8 million for the moving the Children’s Museum to the Gathering Place (a world-class park and recreation area located at River Park).
Then there is the $7 million set aside for a new industrial park in North Tulsa. America said it was a bit difficult to get all the projects on one ballot.
But community activist Tracie Chandler believes there are too many projects, and she does not think it should be passed at all.
“What bothers me about the whole thing is you have money coming in, but look around, we don’t see it. North Tulsa doesn’t see it,” said Chandler, who says the $65-million going to the Gilcrease Museum should have been considered for North Tulsa tourism projects.