September 13, 2012

House candidates converge on OREA meeting

CHICKASHA — Four Oklahoma House candidates: David Perryman, Stewart Meyer, Chuck Utlser and Scott Briggs met with the Grady County Retired Educators Association met on Monday morning to discuss their position on teachers' retirement and public education.

All four candidates have family ties to the concerns of retired teachers. Meyer, Perryman and Utsler have wives that are retired educators or nearing retirement and Biggs' mother is a teacher.

Meyer said that educators play an important role in society. Meyer had met with a superintendent of schools that morning who brought it to his attention that education is more than just grades and that some students test better than others. Meyer said this discrepancy should be accounted for.

"People don't look at what children do, they look at a grade," Meyer said.

Perryman said that teachers forgo a lot of things in life in pursuit of their duties. Perryman said this sacrifice shapes society.

"My wife and I are products of public education. My children are products of public education," Perryman said.

The meeting addressed the cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) issue for teachers. Perryman said that COLAs were a stipend, and not a reliable source of revenue.

Chuck Utsler, a pastor and director of missions, said that he wanted to bring his Christian principles into his platform.

Biggs related the experience of his mother as a rural community teacher. He said that his mother said that teaching "isn't the same anymore" due to "overregulation."

Biggs said that the home lives of students can affect education.

Biggs, who once served as the district attorney of Caddo County, said that there were issues in Anadarko with parents not being involved.

"Parents [in Anadarko] thought of school as daycare," Biggs said.

Biggs said that he wanted to see families involved in education in Grady County.  

A question and answer session was moderated by Dr. Keith Harrison.

All the candidates seemed to agree that a reliable source of funding for retired educators needs to be established.

Perryman said that public servants, such as educators seem to always come in last, while people who start businesses are number one, but that this might be putting the cart before the horse.

"Anybody that does anything does so because of a teacher," Perryman said.

Biggs said that through a gradual tax cut, reliable sources of revenue could be found through businesses.

"We have the resources here, we just need to take advantage of them," Biggs said.

One of the retired educators asked about the rising cost of insurance, which she said cuts deeply into her retirement check.

Meyer said this was an issue that his wife, a retired educator, was facing as well and that both of their insurance nearly doubled after retirement.

Rising insurance costs affect everyone, according to Biggs. He said he knew of a manufacturer in town that was spending more on insurance than on raw materials.

A retired educator at the meeting asked if the candidates would support an OEA proposal for a one time, "catchup" payment to bring retired educators up to the poverty level. She said that currently, many retired educators were living below the poverty line.

Utsler said that a dollar isn't what it used to be, and that he would support finding a way to bring retired educators up from below the poverty line.

Perryman said he would support the proposal but that funding would be needed.

"I would like to right out say yes, but we need to have the funding."

Another retired educator asked if the returning oil boom might be a source of funding for education.

Utsler said that the energy and agricultural industries were not a reliable source of funding because both industries tend to be uncertain.

Meyers agreed that the energy and agriculture industries could not necessarily be relied upon from one year to the next for funding.

Joe Dorman, State Representative was also present at the meeting. He commended the retired teachers for taking the opportunity to learn about the candidates because the policies voted at the capital level have a huge impact on the lives of retired educators.

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