Concerned that needed funding is being taken away from the Oklahoma Schools for the Blind and Deaf and given to government bureaucrats for unnecessary services, State Reps. Wes Hilliard and Barbara Staggs urged fellow House members to take action this week.

Hilliard and Staggs conducted a legislative study Tuesday to examine the more than $200,000 increase in indirect costs the Department of Rehabilitation Services has charged the two schools.

“The School for the Deaf alone has $535,000 going to DRS for administrative or ‘indirect’ costs. My concern is that I am not seeing $535,000 worth of services being performed,” said Hilliard, D-Sulphur. “I also know the students, faculty and parents are not seeing what DRS is doing for them. They see the need for additional teaching materials for the students, more teachers in the schools and for current teachers to get the same pay raises as public school teachers.”

Because the state schools for the blind and the deaf are both operated with the oversight of the Department of Rehabilitation Services, funding for both schools is funneled through the agency. Currently, the department charges both schools a fee for “indirect costs.”

“With this indirect-cost rate these schools are paying, they could hire many more teachers to better serve the students, which should be everybody’s main concern,” said Staggs, D-Muskogee.

Hilliard worked this legislative session to include teachers from the Oklahoma Schools for the Blind and Deaf in recent teacher pay raises. He is now worried the schools will suffer by trying to provide those pay raises and also pay the increase in DRS’ indirect costs.

From 2004 to 2006 DRS has increased indirect fees from 5.5 percent to 7.7 percent of each school’s budget; however, no additional services have been provided to the schools.

“Another major concern I have is that DRS significantly increased their indirect fees. Does it ever max out or can they keep raising it?” asked Hilliard.

Both Staggs and Hilliard are concerned about a duplication of efforts between the school and DRS. After evaluating the current administrative roles at each school, Staggs and Hilliard said they do not understand why the schools cannot be stand-alone organizations.

“I don’t see the need for DRS in these two schools, especially such a costly need. These schools have their own administrative staffs and their own budget processes. Are the schools not already doing what DRS claims is one of their main tasks?” asked Staggs.

Hilliard and Staggs researched indirect expenses paid by schools for the blind and deaf in surrounding states. Their findings showed similar schools in Colorado pay the most — a flat fee of just $20,000, compared to the $535,000 paid by Oklahoma School for the Deaf and $405,000 for the Oklahoma School for the Blind. Both lawmakers were shocked to learn that each Oklahoma school is paying over 20 times more than the highest fee paid in surrounding states.

“Indirect costs shouldn’t be a burden on the schools,” Staggs said. “We have seen it done cheaper in other states — now it is time for Oklahoma.”

“I could understand a fee of $20,000, but it is hard for me to accept fees greater than $500,000. That money should be going to Oklahoma’s blind and deaf students, not going into the pockets of bureaucrats,” said Hilliard. “That is not right.”

Both lawmakers said they want to make sure the students are being served in the best possible way.

“Today, my goal as a legislator is to make sure these students are getting the resources they deserve,” said Hilliard.

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