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State Superintendent Candidates Spar Over Qualifications In Debate

Democratic superintendent canddiate John Cox and Republican nominee Joy Hofmeister during Tuesday's debate at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa.
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Democratic superintendent canddiate John Cox and Republican nominee Joy Hofmeister during Tuesday's debate at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa.

With just a week before the November 4 general election, Republican Joy Hofmeister and Democrat John Cox set out to differentiate themselves last night in one of the final debates in the race for Oklahoma’s top education office.

“I hope tonight that you see a stark difference between myself and my opponent, with our qualifications and our issues,” Cox said in his opening statement.

The A-F grading system, teacher salaries, standardized testing and budget cuts came up in the debate at the Tulsa campus of Oklahoma State University, which was cosponsored by OETA and the Oklahoma League of Women Voters.

Cox, in his 20th year as superintendent of Peggs Public Schools in Cherokee County, repeatedly sought to emphasize his educational credentials and tie Hofmeister to Janet Barresi, the outgoing state superintendent.

“For the last four years we have really complained about our current state superintendent being a dentist, and it wasn’t really the issues of being a dentist but it was the issue of someone who was not involved every day in public education,” Cox said.

Hofmeister, a former public school teacher, businesswoman and member of the State Board of Education touted her opposition to Barresi, who she challenged and defeated in the Republican primary.

“We need new leadership because of failed leadership,” Hofmeister declared in her opening remarks.

The candidates agreed that the A-F grading system for schools should be replaced and that teachers should get a pay raise.

“We both recognize that we need to have increased teacher compensation,” Hofmeister said. “We are losing our teachers to other states and other industries and there are really many reasons for that, but we must also recognize that there is job compensation and job satisfaction, both are low in Oklahoma.”

Cox agreed current teacher salary rates in Oklahoma make it hard to attract top talent and laid out some numbers on what it would cost to give public school teachers a raise.

“Well earlier I said that we need to raise our teachers’ pay up to the regional average of $35,000 and I’ve been so bold to say that to be competitive we need to get it up to $40,000 for a first year teacher,” Cox explained. “It will cost $200 million just to raise the teachers pay up to the $35,000.”

The candidates declared their support for a reevaluation of state education funding levels and attacked the idea of further cuts.

Hofmeister argued that as a budget conscious conservative, she was the best person to oversee a rise in education funding levels.

“Forty-ninth is not OK. Being at the bottom is not OK, or being at the top in cuts,” Hofmeister said. “It’s time that we had a leader that is a conservative, but also recognizes that we must make an investment in education in Oklahoma.

Cox openly made his case for reversing the education cuts of the last several years and stated he would fight for more dollars going toward schools.

“Over the last five years we have lost $1 billion [in funding],” Cox said. “As state superintendent I have to be an advocate for more funding, because as I cross the state and even in our own system we can see the money being depleted every year.”

The two candidates attacked each other fiercely in their closing remarks.

“I just have to say, we need a leader that is a school superintendent and my opponent says time and time again that it doesn’t need to be a superintendent, it should be a CEO.  Well I’ve had enough of four years of a CEO, I’ve had fours of taking a beating in the gut from someone who doesn’t know public education,” Cox said.  “I couldn’t even hire her at my school to be a teacher or a principal.”

“I have a record where I stood shoulder to shoulder with school superintendents from across this state when I stood toe to toe with Janet Barresi and said ‘We need new leadership because of that failed leadership’,” Hofmeister said in defending her leadership credentials. “A leader with a plan.”

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