I told those pesky Norwegians that, if they couldn’t find a better place to hold their ceremonies than Oslo, they could just give their dynamite prize to somebody else. I have to stay close to Oklahoma to keep up with the shenanigans perpetrated and planned by the Republican failureship that is making our great state The Buckle on the Bozo Belt.
CNHI’s Janelle Stecklein reported two weeks ago that the budget, “which advanced with overwhelming Republican support, drains most of the state’s savings, hands most agencies an average 2.44 percent reduction and removes millions from a state-funded account that county commissioners use to pay for road projects. It doesn’t provide promised $3,000 raises for teachers or $1,000 increases for other public employees.”
During the “work” on this budget, lawmakers floated the idea of empowering themselves to “dictate how struggling cash-strapped agencies spend their funds,” according to Ms Stecklein. Why, of course, let a bunch of legislators incapable of doing their own jobs branch out into micro-managing the state agencies their indifference is starving out of existence. Remember, too, these Republicans, who hold huge majorities in both houses, tirelessly tout their business acumen. That same week, Moody’s Investors Service, which considers states’ credit ratings, “downgraded Oklahoma’s credit outlook to ‘negative’ because of the ongoing struggles to close the $215 million budget gap,” according to the ubiquitous Ms Stecklein.
The Moody assessment read: “The nearly six-week-long impasse underscores the economic and institutional weaknesses that have led to persistent structural imbalance since 2015.”
Demonstrating greater comprehension skills than her GOP counterparts running the Legislature and likely not wanting her legacy to be the collapse of state government, Gov. Mary Fallin vetoed much of the stop-gap budget and announced plans to call another special session that would actually address state funding issues. Her official announcement noted, “House Bill 1019X does not provide a long-term solution to the re-occurring deficits, and within three months we will come back facing an estimated $600 million shortfall.”
That was about two weeks ago, meaning we’re heading into a third month of legislative incompetency.
On the bright side, the legislators received an 8.8 percent pay cut for doing their jobs so well. I guess that will have to serve as their reward until the voters fire them. We cannot expect effective results from those who have abdicated their duties in order to carry the water for the oil and gas industry. And then, just when I was giving the governor some props, she issued an executive order – executive orders were anathema when issued by a Democratic president – which compels the state Board of Education to start meddling in local school affairs. It is as if she glommed onto the legislators’ desire to micro-manage.
In fact, Gov. Fallin’s executive order was issued without consulting the state school superintendent or the state Board of Ed. No need for input from those closest to the situation; information can prove so distracting. In the bull’s-eye are districts which spend less than 60 percent of their budgets on “instructional costs,” which does not include school counselors or infrastructure costs and upkeep or basic school expenses as the fuel that keeps the students’ buses running.
Last week The Oklahoman reported that only 44 of Oklahoma’s 519 school districts meet the governor’s criteria. The rest would be pushed into a red-tape maze of trying to consolidate “administrative services like superintendent duties, budgeting, maintenance and equipment, bonding and other responsibilities.” While this is a call for fiscal, not physical, consolidation, there will be no reduction in fuel costs if buses are picking up the same kids. The same number of buses will be required. Buildings will still have to be maintained and repaired. That only leaves administrative salaries as an area of flexibility. And, once you start centralizing the administrations, there will be a centralization of power that will make smaller districts subservient to larger partners – or create a stalemated chaos (resembling the Legislature) with different districts voting for different policies for their central administration to enact.
That does sound like the kind of inefficiency the Republicans have shown a talent for. But, it inevitably bodes ill for the smaller partners – and their communities, where any attrition in jobs and salaries starts them down the road to permanent decline. Business expertise and local control have become as foreign to state Republicans as deficit reduction now is on their national scene. Of course, the over-riding goal for both groups is to make their rich donors even richer at the expense of everybody else.
Shaping school districts on an irrelevant Procrustean bed with dangerous side-effects of its own will provide a semblance of action – busy work. But, it will be a distraction with no relevance to student instruction.
(Gary Edmondson is Stephens County Democratic Party Chair.)