Finances is often the number one reason educators living and working in border counties often cross state lines for employment.

A need for a higher salary drove both Keli Steen and Margie Hayes to consider employment in Arkansas.

For Steen, who taught within the district since 1985, the choice to accept a position at Gravette (Arkansas) Middle School came during the past summer.

For Steen, her 28 years of experience in Oklahoma - at the bachelor's level - provided her with $45,000 a year, including her stipend for ISR. 

In Arkansas, she makes $56,000. A salary she combines with her Oklahoma retirement, sans dedications for her medical insurance.

She figures, even with taking out $460 each month for her Oklahoma insurance, she still brings home at least $6,000 more than if she remained a teacher in Grove.

"The opportunity presented itself, and I was blessed to have the opportunity," Steen said, adding the new position allows her to continue operating her beef farm in rural Delaware County, and help her daughter, McKalee, with her collegiate expenses.

"I knew once McKalee graduated, I would need to retire," Steen said. "Financially it was hard to make ends meet being a single, head of the house hold.

"I wasn't unhappy with Oklahoma. The decision was financially necessary."

While finances drove Steen's decision, the smaller class sizes within the Gravette School District, as well as the available resources, have made her confident in her decision to teach out of state.

Until this year, Steen taught three different sections of science at Grove High School - biology, anatomy and environmental science. She also served as the ISR (science research) advisor, which went from a full-time class to extra curricular offering due to budget cuts.

Now, she teaches seven section os seventh grade science, incorporating a variety of the same lessons she taught her high schoolers. She teaches a total of 136 seventh graders, with two classes of students under 13, and her largest having 23 students. 

The class periods are also smaller, because Gravette operates on an eight-period schedule. On Fridays, the district is on an accelerated schedule, which allows instructors to be part of a professional learning community. 

In Grove the PLC time came, once a week during Steen's prep time.

"The focus here is students during our PLC," Steen said. "It's not different than Grove, but better. I like focusing on the students."

Steen said another difference between Oklahoma and Arkansas, is that the state offers school-wide benchmark tests throughout the year, using the ACT Aspire program, so educators can see how students do throughout the year, rather than in a single test period. 

"It's a whole different way of teaching," Steen said. 

Steen said she misses being in the Grove community on a regular basis. 

"I miss my research kids," Steen said. "I miss the students and teachers in Grove. I miss being in Grove as often and miss going into town."

Steen said she helped organize the first, in recent years, middle school science fair for her students in Gravette. 

She hopes to develop a strong research program, which will allow the high school science teacher to re-start a new generation of scientific research in the coming year or so.

"I love it when the light bulb goes on in a student's eyes and they get it," Steen said. "I love it when they see the results of their labor."

Steen said the job in Gravette is a blessing because it is the closest district, outside of Oklahoma, to her Hereford operation. 

"I'm able to do this, because this school is one of the closest to where I live," Steen said. "I didn't really want to leave Grove. But this gives me financial stability."

Long-term financial decisions

Margie Hayes loved teaching within the Grove School District. She taught 12 years, watching her daughter Morgan and son Chat, move through the various grades.

Finances - and having one in college, and other nearing college age - drove the single mom to consider teaching in Arkansas.

For the past two years, she has taught U.S. History, Physical Education and served as a cross country coach, at Fulbright Junior High in Bentonville. 

As a Grove educator, with a master's degree - and with her added salary for serving as a bus driver in both the morning and afternoon shifts - Hayes brought home roughly $40,000.

Now, she makes approximately $60,000, with only her cross country coach stipend. Her basic health insurance is covered by her school district.

Hayes said she had a love/hate relationship with driving the school bus to make ends meet - she loved her students, but struggled with the 5:30 a.m., wake up call, especially after nights with coaching duties.

"It got old after eight years," Hayes said. "I loved my students, and I loved the other bus drivers and Lynn Sears [transportation director].

"But honestly, I was tired of getting up to drive the bus. But you have to do what you do to make ends meet."

Hayes said her schedule in Grove often meant she was moving from 5:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., on a regular day, and until 10:30 to 11 p.m., on nights with coaching duties.

Now, she leaves for work at 7 a.m., and arrives home by 5 p.m.

"It's a lot easier mentally," Hayes said of her new schedule. 

Still a Ridgerunner at heart, Hayes volunteers as the "Voice of the Ridgerunners" on KGVE during basketball season.

"I miss all of my kids in Grove," Hayes said. "I miss my school family. Those people were my family. But they understood the decision."

Hayes is grateful for the Arkansas retirement system. When she began in Gravette she talked with officials on how to "buy out" her Oklahoma retirement, to transfer it to Arkansas.

In Arkansas, her 12 years of experience would cost roughly $155,000 to "purchase" the time. When she contacted Oklahoma officials about her retirement, she was told it was only worth $39,000 or roughly $12,000 per year.

"Basically after four years in Arkansas, I'll have as much retirement in the bank as I did after 12 years in Oklahoma," Hayes said.

While she would make the move to out of state again, Hayes admits she's been contacted regarding administration positions in Ottawa and Delaware County school districts, including the Grove Middle School principal position.

She worries the financial risk would not be worth returning to Oklahoma. 

"As an assistant principal, I would make around $55,000 to $65,000," Hayes said. "I make that now just teaching and without the headaches.

"I'd want an administrative job, because I want to work with the teachers, who in turn work with the students - and there is a ripple effect. But I wouldn't come back to teach."

One year absence

In 1995, Ed Trumbull became an educator within the Grove Public School system.

He began his teaching career seven years earlier at Liberty Mounds. An OEA summer leadership conference at Shangri-La - and a chance meeting of his now wife, Kelly, on the volleyball court - eventually led to his decision to make Grove home.

He taught for decades middle school science until his last full-time year of 2014-15.

It was then, Trumbull decided to take his full retirement, and seek out an out of state teaching position. 

All along his plan, he said, was to retire and spend the next 10 years teaching in either Arkansas or Missouri, so he could retire again with a second retirement. A decision driven by a chance to provide financial stability to the two-educator income family.

For one year, Trumbull said he taught seventh grade life science at North Middle School in Joplin, Missouri.

The position was good. Trumbull loved the school and his colleagues in Missouri were "fantastic."

Something changed that year for him.

"I realized it wasn't all about the money," Trumbull said. "My heart wasn't in it. It didn't have the same feel as Grove.

"It wasn't home."

Trumbull, who now serves as the mayor of Grove, said the time he spent commuting or in Joplin left him disconnected from the town he loved.

The addition of first his granddaughter, and now a grandson, cemented the decision to return to Grove.

"I wanted to be poppy," he said. 

In one year, Trumbull admits, he was able to add $10,000 to the family's bank account. He was also able to buy a $2,500 riding lawn mower - something that would have been difficult with his past salary.

In Trumbull's first seven years of teaching he sold his plasma and delivered pizza to make ends meet. He dual educators, Trumbull said he and Kelly learned to live frugally during their marriage.

As a retired teacher, Trumbull has returned to Grove on a part-time basis. 

The decision, he said, allows him to still focus on what he loves - students and science - as well as the Grove community.