By Tim Willert – NewsOK

They have yet to be hired, but first-year teachers who go to work for Oklahoma City’s new downtown charter school will make considerably more than their counterparts statewide.

John Rex Charter Elementary School board members voted recently to pay newly minted teachers with a bachelor’s degree $40,000 in salary annually —


20 percent more than teachers in surrounding districts earn, and nearly 27 percent more than the state minimum salary for teachers with no prior experience.

The school at N Walker and W Sheridan is set to hire 14 teachers before it opens in August. In the first year, it will offer pre-K through second-grade classes for about 300 children, adding a grade level every year up to the sixth grade.

“We have very high expectations for the teachers that we hire at John Rex,” said Joe Pierce, the school’s chief administrator. “An excellent teacher has a great impact on student achievement in the classroom. We’re trying to attract the best teachers we can find.”

Charter schools are public schools established by contract with sponsors and often promote a specific curriculum and learning style. They are privately run but publicly funded schools that emphasize small class sizes, extended hours, close student-teacher relationships and a strong sense of community.

Charters are not required to evaluate teachers the same way the district’s other schools do. Conversely, charter teachers are not protected by unions and can be fired at will for poor job performance.

Pierce, formerly the executive director of curriculum and instruction for Putnam City Schools, said John Rex board members voted to pay teachers more than area school districts because they “recognize the value and honor and importance of a quality teacher.”

The minimum starting salary for Oklahoma teachers is $31,600, according to the state Education Department. Charter schools are not required to report their salaries to the department, a spokeswoman said.

“Some (charters) pay at or below the state minimum but most pay at or above what local school districts pay,” said Chris Brewster, superintendent of Santa Fe South Schools, a K-12 charter.

John Rex is one of 13 charter schools in the Oklahoma City district, which pays new non-charter teachers $32,925 annually, not including benefits. Putnam City Schools pays $33,750 and Edmond Public schools pays $37,107 in annual salary to starting teachers.

“It is no secret that Oklahoma teachers deserve more pay for the work they provide,” said Rod McKinley, human resources chief for Oklahoma City Public Schools. “The district is glad that the John Rex Charter School board has external private support to provide its teachers with salaries that are higher than the metro average. It is something we aspire to be able to do for our teachers, as well.”

Pierce said incoming teachers can make as much as $52,000 when health insurance and teacher retirement benefits are included. The school is also considering an incentive package for teachers based on performance, student and school achievement and evaluations, he added.