Cherokee Nation OKs $10K raise for SHS, immersion teachers

BY BRITTNEY BENNETT
Former Reporter
03/13/2018 05:00 PM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Tribal 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. BRITTNEY BENNETT/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Principal 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. 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 by $371,591.

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 report.

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 $667.1 million.

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