Oklahoma teacher pay: Struggling to make ends meet

By: Janna Clark

Updated:

TULSA, Okla. - Quick Facts:

  • State lawmakers discussing potential ways to give Oklahoma teachers a raise
  • Teachers told FOX23 their salaries can make it hard to make ends meet
  • One teacher gave FOX23’s Janna Clark a look at her checkbook to see their struggles

 

State lawmakers are scrambling to figure out how to give teachers a pay raise in a tough economic time.

FOX23 and the Tulsa World worked together to take a closer look at the struggles that some teachers face trying to survive on a teacher’s salary. 

GALLERY: http://www.fox23.com/news/fox23-investigates/photos-teacher-pay-investigation/497977620

Gina Cattaneo teaches speech, drama and debate at Tulsa’s Central High School.  She’s been teaching nine years.

“I just love it. It's a calling,” she said. “I don't do it for the money, that's for sure.”

FOX23 called Cattaneo after she posted on Facebook:

“What made you post that?” FOX23’s Janna Clark asked.

“It was big thanks, like a sarcastic thank you,” Cattaneo said.

After Cattaneo was divorced, she wasn't sure her salary could support her two kids.

“It got too much. I had to sell my house. (I) couldn't afford my mortgage and all the bills,” Cattaneo said.

Cattaneo worked a second job waiting tables and counts on her boyfriend to split the bills.

Even with help, when she crunches the numbers, it doesn't look good.

“When that bank statement comes, you're like ‘Oh,’” she said.

Her paycheck for the month is $2,155.

Once she pays her half of the bills, the house, car and utilities, she has $268 left to pay for food, gas, clothing and doctor bills.

“I've been negative this school year. (I’ve) been negative three or four times,” she said.

“What about those unexpected expenses?” Clark asked.

“Like my shower is broken right now, its costs $200 to fix it. So we're rolling with a broken shower,” she said.

Another expense is on the way: Cattaneo is pregnant.

FOX23 analyzed salaries for all Oklahoma teachers. The average salary is $38,500.

We calculated the livable wage for a teacher like Cattaneo with two children. 

It's $52,300. She'll never make that: the maximum salary after 28 years of teaching is $49,600.

“The state needs to come up with a plan … so we can have a lifestyle that we're not constantly stressed and struggling,” she said.

One parent told FOX23 that she doesn’t get it. “How can we expect a teacher to pour their hearts into our children, when they're thinking, ‘How am I going to buy groceries for my family?”

Tulsa Public School superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist is pushing for raises.

“These are professional educators and struggling to feed their families and make ends meet. It's a disgrace,” Gist said.

Gist told lawmakers last month that it's up to them.

“The House, the Senate, the government is taking this salary issue extremely seriously,” said state Sen. Gary Stanislawski.

“The only way they get raises is if we appropriate that. We haven't done that in 10 years,” state Sen. Kevin Matthews said.

“It's seen more as a wage-earning job that you didn't have to get educated, certified and prove yourself,” state Sen. JJ Dossett said.

“We need to deliver and give raises but how - they haven't figured that out,” Stanislawski said.

“You're going to keep teaching right?” Clark asked Cattaneo.

“Yes. It’s hard to keep up that morale every day (and) fight the good fight. You're here for the kids you're here for the kids. I love my job but it's stressful,” Cattaneo said.

Tulsa World Columnist Ginnie Graham examined what state legislators are proposing that could increase teacher pay. 

CLICK to read Graham's report. 
 

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