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Appreciating the Legislature’s Gift Horse
Appreciating the Legislature’s Gift Horse
Dr. Tom Deighan, LPS Superintendent
Monday, September 24, 2018

Dreaming the Dreams of Our Children

Written by Dr. Tom Deighan, LPS Superintendent

During my short and ignominious career as a horseshoer, I came to understand what it means to look a gift horse in the mouth. Any good horse trader can tell a lot about a horse’s age and health by looking at its teeth.  Size, shape, color, and wear patterns in teeth are all clues for the horse trader, but it is not an exact science.  Consequently, even the most skilled horse trader will smell a lot of horse breath trying to pick out a good one.  

You can imagine, therefore, how offensive it would be to give someone a good horse, only for them to start probing its mouth for flaws.  This is exactly what has happened to our Oklahoma Legislature after passing historic pay raises for certified and support educators.  The teachers’ raises went fairly smoothly, but the support raises have been a hot mess of horse teeth, despite the legislators’ best intentions. They passed a $1250 pay raise for all full-time support staff, never imagining the chaos to follow.  The legislation inadvertently raised more questions than it answered, and we superintendents have been looking this gift horse in the mouth ever since.

Because of this confusion, LPS committed to the pay raises early this year, but we implemented a temporary solution, waiting on guidance from the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OKSDE).  If we acted too swiftly, we could have underpaid many staff members.   On the other hand, we could have overpaid, inadvertently placing the district in financial peril. Depending on the interpretation, the raise could have been as little as $.080 for some staff members.  Based on the guidance finally received from the OKSDE, we adopted $1.21 per hour pay raises for the groups outlined in the law.  

We estimate that this will cost LPS at least $1 million more than provided by the state, but this is one unfunded mandate that I cannot complain about. We are glad for the help, and it was long overdue. Fortunately, our financial condition enables us to absorb the loss long enough to develop a long-term plan to accommodate these raises in the years to come.  Like everyone else, I wish everything was perfect, but last spring was a hectic time, and I am sincerely thankful for the effort. Moreover, I am thankful to our support staff for allowing us time to figure this out.  I am also grateful for our financial standing, which could not exist without Board and community support.  This may not have been a perfect piece of legislation, but I certainly will not be looking this legislative gift horse in the mouth.

Before you get any ideas, please do not call me about any of your equine needs. After all, I hobbled the first horse I ever shoed, and I can barely ride the beasts. Of the three horses I did own, two were devils’ spawn. One would charge straight into a fence or under a tree to shake a rider.  The other developed a deadly side hook with her back leg that could easily kill a grown man.  We paid good money for those two horses, but the third horse was a gift.  Roy was an old cutting horse with weak knees that could not bear the weight of an adult for long.  Nothing seemed to make him happier than loping around with a kid on his back, however. Roy was gentle and trustworthy, but if we had looked that gift horse in the mouth, we may not have taken him.  He only lived a few years longer, but he was the best horse of the group.  Likewise, we have no guarantees about what future legislators will do, but we are extremely thankful for the 56th Oklahoma Legislature’s work last spring – and to the educators who sent the message.  On behalf of my support professionals and teachers, thank you all, and may the gift horses keep coming!

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