Ray Carter | March 2, 2022

Senators vote to close loophole exploited by teacher unions

Ray Carter

Teacher union employees could no longer exploit an alleged loophole in state law that allows them to accrue increased state retirement benefits even when they are actually working for a labor union and not a public school, under legislation that has received committee approval.

Senate Bill 1579, by state Sen. Lonnie Paxton, states that when a school district employee is granted a leave of absence to serve as an employee of a national, statewide, or school district employee association, the former school-district employee shall not receive pay from the school district or any benefits from the school district.

In addition, the former school employee will not receive any salary-schedule increase in pay based on time spent working for a private entity if they later return to public-school employment. Only actual years of service in public schools would be counted.

Also, time spent as a union employee would not be used in any calculation of state retirement benefits.

Paxton said some school districts are allowing teachers to leave the district to work for a labor union, yet retain the former teacher on the school’s payroll. While the union may reimburse the district for the former employee’s salary, that arrangement can significantly inflate the former school employee’s state retirement benefits without taxpayers receiving actual work in return.

“You have people in non-teaching positions that have been hired by outside organizations that are continuing to accrue years of service on that Teachers’ Retirement System,” said Paxton, R-Tuttle. “Oftentimes, those exact employees are being paid much more than teachers of the same level of education, same experience level of education, and so that also accrues into that system. So if you’re not in the classroom teaching, you’re not part of the administration of that building, and you’re actually an employee of the outside group, you should not be receiving the benefits that are provided by the state.”

Paxton said such arrangements are not explicitly authorized anywhere in state law and could be construed as a “loophole” at best.

Sen. J.J. Dossett, D-Owasso, objected to the legislation.

“We’re trying to step in between a negotiation between school teachers and their administration,” Dossett said.

Dossett called SB 1579 “dangerous” and said lawmakers “should instead encourage” such arrangements and allow teachers to continue accruing state benefits even if they are not working for public schools.

“It’s just another blow that I’m afraid is bad for morale,” Dossett said.

Paxton said the practice may not be widespread today, but described it as an abuse of Oklahoma taxpayers.

“Any of it is—I think—is wrong,” Paxton said.

SB 1579 passed the Senate Education Committee on a 9-3 vote that broke along party lines with Democrats in opposition.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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