ED CANNADY:Pension negotiation on the horizon

In my last column I addressed the possible change in the traditional pension system for new state workers.I have become aware that Rep. Randy McDaniel, R-Oklahoma City, as a financial adviser and stockbroker, has become the point person for House of Representative leaders on pension negotiations. Currently, he proposes a shift to a 401(k) style retirement account for state workers in which the state would match employee contributions in a range from 6 to 7 percent. He claims this would increase the actuarial strength of existing programs by statutory requirements to redirect revenue to shore up the unfunded liability of the existing pension systems. Part of his plan has been to do away with the possibility of cost of living adjustments without direct dedicated revenue to cover their cost. This change reduced the unfunded liability of the state’s pension systems for 2010/11, but it went back up in 2012. This statistic indicates McDaniel and his followers have not found the solution to the state employee’s retirement system yet. It is very likely this issue will provide a significant battleground for the upcoming second session of the 54th Legislature, since rank and file state workers assume their retirement system has become something of a political football and the state’s political power brokers have the ball and hope to score a winning touchdown.As a longtime educator, I believe competitive athletics have played a very important role in the development of students and have played a critical balance between their maturation and academic growth and maturity. As a result of interim studies on this issue, there is a focus on the oversight role of the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association. Additionally, the Oklahoma Supreme Court is placing the association activities under the court’s scrutiny. The conflict that has been raised is the issue of whether the funding for its existence and activities are primarily from state revenue through the schools or the revenue generated by playoff gate revenue. If it is the latter, then the court gave greater latitude in the association’s rule making. However, to me the issue often relates to their contradictory rulings as they apply to urban and rural school systems. This area of rule making is problematic and has been evident over the years. It may be that I have always been associated with rural schools, but I have always sensed a discrepancy in rules related to these areas.As a result of the focus on problems in the OSSAA, State Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, is calling for legislative interim studies on the operation of the OSSAA. His focus, supported by former Oklahoma University football coach Barry Switzer, however, is on requiring our public schools to accept home school students to participate in the school’s competitive programs, especially athletics. This issue was brought up last session but did not receive any traction. I have multiple concerns about this proposed rule change. If this is allowed, it will place our enrolled students at a disadvantage in terms of playing time as well as having a negative fiscal impact on the school in light of the cost of maintaining the required infrastructure for these competitive programs. Another issue relates to a recent memo sent out by the state Department of Education ruling on what is referred to as the “student cohort” condition. Specifically, as I have addressed in previous columns, schools are given a negative hit on their graduation rate data when children within the school’s geographic boundaries are home schooled. As these home schooled youths arrive at the age associated with graduation, but do not graduate because they are not enrolled in the school, the school is scored negatively on the graduation rate score on its A-F school grade. This is based on the Department of Education classifying these students as “drop-outs” rather than “transfer” students. If these drop-outs are allowed to participate in secondary school activity programs while causing a school to be downgraded on their A-F score, this will be a form of double punishment on our public schools — one fiscal and the other grading classification. We, as the Legislature, must be exceptionally vigilant on this matter. It is my hope that Cleveland’s study takes into consideration the probability of the conundrum that is created by his request for this rule change. Ed Cannaday represents District 15, which includes part of LeFlore County, in the Oklahoma House. Write him at P.O. Box 98, Porum, OK 74455, e-mail him at ed.cannaday@okhouse.gov, call him at (800) 522-8502 or (405) 557-7375 or go to his website at www.edcannaday.com.