Councilors and Sequoyah High School Principal Jolyn Choate
join Principal Chief Bill John Baker as he signs into law
a $10,000 base pay increase for certified teachers on March
12 at the W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex in Tahlequah. The increase
will go to 45 teachers at the Cherokee Immersion Charter School
and SHS. (photo by Brittney Bennett - Cherokee Phoenix)
Chief Bill Baker proposed the teacher base pay increase legislation,
which will give a $5,000 lump sump payment to certified teachers
on March 29 for the current academic year and another $5,000
for teacher contracts on July 1 for the 2018-19 academic year.
(photo by Brittney Bennett - Cherokee Phoenix)
TAHLEQUAH At the March 12 Tribal Council meeting, Principal
Chief Bill John Baker signed into law a $10,000 pay increase for
45 certified teachers at the Cherokee Immersion Charter School and
Sequoyah High School.
Teachers were expected to see a $5,000 lump sum for the current
academic year with their March 29 checks, while another $5,000 is
expected to appear in teacher contracts on July 1.
"Over the past decade the state of Oklahoma has made drastic
budget cuts to public education," Baker said. "Cherokee Nation is
unwavering in its commitment to public schools, students and teachers.
This pay increase reaffirms that commitment and, I hope, sends a
message to state leaders that they should follow Cherokee Nation's
lead and raise pay for all certified teachers in the state."
Jon Minor, a SHS teacher and assistant coach, said the raise
was important. "The Cherokee Nation has been very supportive and
proactive in the opportunities provided for our students, faculty,
staff and administration at Sequoyah High School. We have multiple
avenues and resources that Cherokee Nation brings into our school
system, that allows us to teach and do our jobs more efficiently."
Meda Nix, a fifth grade teacher at the immersion school, has
taught at the school for seven years and was excited about the raise.
"People don't realize how hard and mentally exhausting teaching
can be and that it takes a special person to come in every day and
put their heart and soul into it," Nix said. "I want to thank the
chief and Tribal Council for thinking of us and taking care of us."
She said the increase is important for teacher retention and
an incentive for others interested in teaching to obtain their certifications.
The raise was part of a budget modification that passed with
a 14-1 vote. Tribal Councilor Janees Taylor voted against the legislation,
and Tribal Councilors Rex Jordan and Wanda Hatfield were absent.
"As you know, that wasn't the only thing in that budget modification,
and so there were just some issues with it that I wasn't real comfortable
with, and that's why I voted no," Taylor said.
The raise will come from the Un-appropriated Reserves Fund,
which Tribal Council Financial Oversight Executive Director Jody
Reece called "General Fund carryover." To cover the raise, the immersion
school's budget increased by $110,725, while Sequoyah's increased
SHS Superintendent Leroy Qualls said earlier in the day that
certified teachers are paid through a step program with the Bureau
of Indian Education and do not receive an annual 3 percent raise
that regular CN employees receive.
"That's not true for the teachers because they are on contract,"
he said. "They get a step each year, which is 300-something dollars."
Oklahoma ranks 48th in the U.S. in terms of teacher salaries,
according to a 2016 National Education Association study. In Oklahoma
the average elementary teacher makes $41,150, while high school
teachers make $42,460, according to a 2016 Bureau of Labor Statistics
Before the increase the average salary for certified teachers
at the two schools was $42,815, according to CN Communications.
Earlier this year Oklahoma legislators proposed legislation
to fund a $5,000 teacher pay increase, but it failed to garner the
needed approval. As of publication, teachers around the state were
planning a walkout on April 2 if the Legislature did not agree on
funding an increase.
"We hope the state of Oklahoma looks at the Cherokee Nation
as leaders in education, which they do and they should," Secretary
of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said "The Legislature is in the midst
of considering this at the moment, but we think the moment is now,
and we think we can show some leadership. But first and foremost
it's because the teachers deserve the raise."
Councilors also approved several trust-land projects, including
approving 435 acres in Adair County and 160 acres in Sequoyah County.
Tribal Councilor Frankie Hargis said there were "no immediate plans"
for how the lands would be used.
In other business, legislators:
- Announced the groundbreaking of a casino on March 26 at the
Cherokee Springs Plaza site,
- Increased the fiscal year 2018 capital budget by $1 million
to $252 million, and
- Increased the FY 2018 operating budget by $5.76 million to