OKLAHOMA CITY–State Representative Ed Cannaday , D-Porum, filed an amendment to HB3000 to guard against bias on the Board of Trustees for the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System (OTRS) and the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS).
By a vote of 58-27, Republicans today voted to table the amendment and thus quashed these efforts.
“I am very disappointed that Republicans granted little thought to this issue before they voted to table this amendment,” said Cannaday. “I think their actions speak volumes – and I hope people are paying attention.”
This amendment was filed to specifically address an appointment by the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Janet Barresi, to the OTRS Board of Trustees.
By statute the heads of three state agencies are called to serve on the OTRS Board: The State Superintendent of Public Instruction; The Director of State Finance; and The Director of the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education.
Each of these three can appoint a designee, such as Bruce DeMuth, the Chief of Staff of the Career and Technology Education, or Jill Geiger, State Budget Director for the Office of State Finance, being logical choices and asked to serve as designees.
However, Barresi chose not to appoint as her designee her Chief of Staff, or even anyone who works for the State Department of Education. Instead, in July of 2011, she chose to appoint the Fiscal Policy Director for the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a right-wing conservative group that supports private and charter schools over public schools and who is actively lobbying for the complete elimination of the income tax, regardless of the outcome to core services.
“I am really surprised that on the OTRS Board, the State Department of Education is represented by Jonathan Small of the OCPA,” said Cannaday. “I have grave concerns as to the implications of such an appointment – and education officials across the state and within the Department should be insulted by her choice of Mr. Small over all others.
“I filed this amendment as it is obviously necessary to remind the Superintendent of Public Instruction that her function is to represent public schools and education employees, and in her absence, she needs to appoint someone within the Department of Education, not a private individual who works with a group that seeks to eradicate public education in Oklahoma.”
Currently, there is no legal requirement that a designee be an employee of the same department or agency as the designator. To address this concern, Cannaday’s amendment would require each designee be a full–time employee of the department in which the designating individual works.
“This amendment is necessary to keep political partisanship away from the OTRS,” said Cannaday.
Small, an opponent of government and public services, has a record of attacking the OTRS as a beneficiary of supposed government largesse. In an article titled “State Government Spending Continues to Climb,” he wrote that:
The Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System (OTRS) receives five percent of all sales, use, individual income, and corporate income tax revenues before those tax dollars can be appropriated. That’s $669 million in the last three years alone—none of it appropriated. And the OTRS is but one example. Legislators are fond of using these “dedicated, directed” funding sources to channel millions of dollars to their favorite government programs.
“Presumably Mr. Small, if granted the opportunity, would defund the OTRS, given he uses it as an example in his article railing against government spending,” said Cannaday. “Do we really want someone with such an openly partisan record to serve on the same retirement board that he is so adamantly opposed to funding?”
In addition to other anti-public education initiatives, the OCPA crafted and lobbied for a plan to slash funding for the OTRS by switching from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan. In a defined contribution plan, the state would shift more responsibility and risk to employees, while contributing significantly less in employee benefits. The end result would be the scrapping of guaranteed retirement benefits for public workers in favor of plans that would be held hostage by a volatile stock market.
“Of course, Mr. Small and the OCPA do not state why the OTRS is unworthy of the funding it receives because that position would be indefensible,” said Cannaday. “These people are charged with overseeing the retirement funds of dedicated educators who have spent their lives in public service. Members of this board should be neutral protectors, and that’s not the case at this time.”
Although the amendment to HB 3000 was tabled, Cannaday plans to continue pursuing this issue on behalf of active and retired education employees.