Petition drive for citywide income tax to support schools begins (News OK)

By William Crum

An initiative petition drive aimed at calling a vote on a temporary citywide income tax to supplement lagging teacher pay has begun.

A coalition of education and political leaders, Save OKC Schools, has 90 days to gather enough signatures to put the proposal before Oklahoma City voters.

The proposal calls for a 0.50 percent income tax to raise about $50 million per year. Individuals and families living near or below the poverty line would be exempt.

Advocates need about 12,000 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. They hope for a vote April 3.

“The bottom line is we’re running out of time,” said Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid, an organizer of the petition drive and architect of the plan.

Shadid appeared with Oklahoma City school board Chair Paula Lewis, former Gov. David Walters and others at a kickoff rally Tuesday night in northwest Oklahoma City.

About 100 people attended.

Speakers said public schools had lost ground due to the Legislature’s inaction.

“I don’t think this initiative is the first choice of anyone at this table,” Shadid said. “But we’ve waited and waited and waited.”

The measure calls for grants to be awarded by the city of Oklahoma City to school districts.

Proceeds could be used only for annual stipends for teachers, school nurses and support personnel.

Administrators would be excluded. The tax would sunset after four years.

Gene Perry, policy director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, said general state funding per student in Oklahoma, adjusted for inflation, has been cut 26.9 percent since fiscal 2008.

Other measures of funding show declines of 11.8 percent and 14.4 percent between 2008 and 2014, he said, citing data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“Oklahoma has cut deeply and we are seeing it in our schools,” Perry said.

MAPS model

The plan is modeled after MAPS for Kids, the voter-approved sales tax that raised money for school renovation and construction projects in school districts serving Oklahoma City.

There are more than 20 districts within the Oklahoma City limits or with boundaries that overlap the city’s boundaries.

Advocates say they expect about 70 percent of revenue to go to Oklahoma City Public Schools.

The remainder would be divided among the other districts, based on the number of enrolled students who reside in Oklahoma City.

“Nobody has enough. Whether it be a charter school or a public school or a public charter school, they’re fighting for not enough dollars,” Lewis said.

‘About our children’

She said additional revenue would make up for the most recent cuts to her district and “at least stop it from going the wrong direction.”

“It would buy us a little bit of time,” she said, “and, more importantly, it would tell our teachers that we care about our teachers, that we value you, that we know you worked hard to be where you’re at, we know you care about our kids.”

Christine Byrd, a community activist, said the proposal was “not about taxes but it’s about our children and those individuals who shape them.”

“If we’re willing to give nothing,” she said, “guess what? We’re going to get nothing back.”


Margaret (Maggie) den Harder obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Christian Theology from Seattle Pacific University and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Oklahoma. Originally from the Pacific Northwest area of Washington state, Maggie has called Tulsa home for the past 8 years. Since living in Tulsa, Maggie has worked in the legal field, higher education administration, and the nonprofit sector as well as actively volunteering in the community. Maggie also recently spent time at the City of Tulsa as a consultant and wrote the content for Resilient Tulsa, an action-oriented strategy designed to better equity in Tulsa. Through her work, community involvement, and personal experiences, Maggie is interested in the intersection of the law and mental health and addiction treatment issues, preventative and diversion programs, and maternal mental health, particularly post-partum depression and post-partum psychosis. While working at Oklahoma Policy Institute as a research intern, Maggie further developed an interest in family dynamics and stability, economic security-related stress, and intergenerational trauma.

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