Oklahoma Education Association keeps generous benefits and pay raises while members face more suffering

 Is the Oklahoma Education Association implementing belt-tightening to show solidarity with its members?

A look at its Internal Revenue Service filings from 2005 to 2010 shows, not so much.

OEA’s payroll for seven centers has risen about $182,000 from the 2005-06 tax year to the 2009-2010 tax year, to about $4.4 million, according to Internal Revenue Service records.

Several professional staffers have quit, been fired or retired. In essence, the union has continued to hand out staff and executive raises and maintained pricey benefits, while 2,000 teachers have lost jobs.

Last year, the OEA lost over 700 members due to the deteriorating public education environment, according to CEO Lela Odom. But the perks of working at the union remain lavish. And top executive salaries and perks have skyrocketed.

Professional staff members receive company cars. They don’t actually own them, but they take them home at night. The union pays gas, repairs, maintenance, insurance and replaces them after a few years.

Plus, an OEA insider admits the union’s staff continues enjoying free health, dental and vision coverage, potentially worth tens of thousands of dollars.

That means quite a few professional staffers are enjoying pay, insurance benefits, and auto perks worth $100,000 or more.

A handful of professional staffers who work in the Oklahoma City metro area do not get cars.

Top executive pay and benefits skyrocketed during the period. President Roy Bishop’s total comp had risen to $154,000 by the end of his tenure in 2009. Executive director Lela Odom’s pay and perks hit more than $249,000 by 2010.

Meanwhile, teachers’ average total compensation is around $45,000.

Educators are also suffering under an education budget blistered by 10 percent in collective cuts in the last few years.

Teachers face probable layoffs in excess of the 2,000 meted out last year. This year, they’ve also lost their $5,000 National Board Certified teacher stipend and many face possible loss of their personal health insurance.

The state pays no subsidy for teachers’ family members. It was paying 100 percent of the teachers’ premium only, but that cost has been shifted to the school districts, some of which will most assuredly refuse the additional expense. Legal action has been rumored.

“That is wrong, in my opinion,” said a suburban first grade teacher, who spoke on condition of anonymity “That’s not fair.”

The 24-year, veteran educator said she has never considered becoming a member of the union and it doesn’t represent her highest priority – her students.

Schools face 4.1 percent in cuts this year alone, the largest single year cut in years, according to OEA leadership.

OEA declined repeated requests to provide more insight into this data.

As far as cuts, OEA delegates voted to eliminate those two vacant staff positions at OEA headquarters and freeze member dues. But members will be stung by a $10 a head assessment to shore up the National Education Association’s legislative and legal war chest, which was drawn down upon significantly last year, NEA reported.

Education cuts are not restricted to Oklahoma. NEA is being hit with major membership and revenue losses due to troubles nationwide.

Since 2008-2009, the union has re-aligned staff assignments staff levels may have increased or decreased since that time. Its IRS filings certainly appear to be heading in the direction of less line item disclosure.

NOTE: Stacy Martin is a researcher for CapitolBeatOK, and editor of The City Sentinel, a weekly newspaper where this article also appeared last week.