Super Superintendent: An Educator In Rural Oklahoma Comes To The Defense Of Public Schools

Lately, some on the right have taken to arguing that public school teachers are overpaid.

Oklahoma has a private-school voucher plan aimed at children with special needs, and one of its toughest critics is a career educator in the tiny community of Mounds, population 1,200.

Donna Campo, superintendent of the Liberty Public Schools, hasn’t been shy about speaking out against any plan to divert taxpayer funds to private schools. A recent profile of Campo in the Tulsa World found her in feisty form.

“Every parent, every student in the state of Oklahoma has a dog in the fight,” Campo said. “And that is, you cannot take revenue from already under-resourced schools and expect them to be able to perform and succeed.”

She added, “I’m concerned about the future for all children, not just the ones who can already afford to go to the private schools. I’m concerned about the quality of education for all, not just the chosen few.”

As superintendent of a small district, Campo does what it takes to get the job done. She’ll step into the classroom if a substitute teacher is needed and can even drive the school bus. She told the World she understands why some people prefer a religious education for their children but said it’s not the job of the taxpayer to pay for it.

“This is just me, but I raised my children with a firm belief in Jesus Christ,” Campo said. “I think it’s my responsibility, not a teacher's, to provide for my child's religious instruction….They say, ‘I'm a taxpayer. Why shouldn’t my tax dollars go to where my kids go to school?’ The answer to that is, ‘We all pay taxes to promote the common good. The roads. Social services. Schools. The prisons.’”

It’s good to hear someone on the front lines articulate this vision. It is increasingly lost in the rush to privatize and buried under a bootstrap ethic that treats the common good as if it’s creeping socialism.

Too often we lose sight of the fact that we’re all in this together. Ninety percent of America’s young people attend public schools. Even if you don’t have kids or if your children are grown, you have a stake in the education of those youngsters. An educated population is a boon to society. Education leads to jobs instead of crime; it fosters citizens who contribute to society instead of assailing it.

When I read about educators like Campo, I am reminded of how hard the teachers, staff and administrators in the public education community work. (If there are any teachers in your family, you know that they put in much more than a 40-hour week.) What do they get for all of that effort? Heaps of disdain and abuse from the right wing.

Lately, some on the right have taken to arguing that public school teachers are overpaid. They actually say this with a straight face, even as stories mount about teachers spending their own money on supplies or approaching private groups with hat in hand to beg for support.

This is the time of year when we’re supposed to be thinking about others. One way you can do that is by slipping a gift card to your favorite teacher. He or she may use it to buy classroom supplies, but at least it will offset some of those funds coming out of his or her own pocket.

Also do this: Think about your own life and the people who pushed you to achieve and challenged you to go the extra mile. Think about the people who led you to new areas of study and interests. Think about the people who shaped and guided you, who indeed helped make you the person you are. There are some teachers in that group, right?  

Please join me in telling those teachers something that they don’t hear nearly enough: “Thank you!”