Broken Arrow, Union, Bixby and Jenks are coping with state budget shortfalls

After years of increased state funding, public schools are facing cuts due to lower state revenues because of falling energy production in Oklahoma.

School administrators and teacher union advocates are trying to blame state lawmakers for not increasing funding during a revenue shortfall.

Broken Arrow’s school board approved $7.39 million in cuts for the next fiscal year and that means cutting 29 teacher positions and 37 other employee spots.

In Broken Arrow, class sizes will rise by only one student to save $1 million a year. Cuts are expected in science, technology, engineering, math, literacy coaches, physical education, special education and gifted and talented programs. Some fine arts, athletics and student field trips could be axed.

Union is facing a shortfall of $5.2 million with the elimination of 25 teaching spots and 19 support workers but only four administrators.

Debra Jacoby, chief financial officer at Union Public Schools, on presented her plan to the Union school board, which  agreed to reduce that district’s new fiscal year budget by $5.2 million.

“It changes every day, but our goal is to try to find positions where a person is retiring or resigning,” Jacoby said. “As those positions come open, we are trying to make those the positions we are eliminating as opposed to positions with people in them.”

Oklahoma’s public school system has been criticized for being top heavy with administrators and the unwillingness to consolidate districts. Several bills were filed in the Legislature this session but they were killed in a Senate committee due to pressure from public school advocates and rural legislators.

Last month, Tulsa Public Schools cut 270 jobs, including 142 teacher positions, to make up for an $8 million shortfall. TPS won’t have to lay off anyone due to retirements and resignations.

Catoosa Public Schools will go to a four-day school week this fall to save money.

Bixby is facing a cut of $1.7 million but Bixby will not cut any teachers and instead will eliminate 30 administrative and support positions. Bixby plans to apply its state textbook allowance toward its general fund and instead, buy textbooks with bond money.

A group of parents and citizens joined efforts with the Bixby Educational Endowment Foundation (BEEF) to form the BEEF “Bridge the Gap” (BTG) campaign.

Bridge the Gap’s goal is to make whole the predicted loss of state funding to Bixby Public Schools. “With the number of students we have in our district, we set a goal of raising $202 for each student in the district and that will get us back our $1.7 million dollars and bridge the gap and make us stronger,” said Superintendent Dr. Kyle Wood .

All donations are tax deductible, as BEEF is a registered nonprofit organization, and will flow directly to the general fund for all school sites. Checks made out to “Bridge the Gap Bixby” are being accepted at school sites and donations can be made on the website www.bridgethegapbixby.com.

Bixby Public Schools recently passed a bond issue, but money from bonds go to distinctly different purposes than state funding.

District spokeswoman Dee Harris said, “Bond money can be used for capital improvements, technology, instructional materials and approved expenditures outlined on the bond issue. Bond money cannot be used for salaries, benefits, perishable supplies or general fund expenses. Eighty-nine percent of Bixby Public School’s budget goes toward employee salaries. This is one of many reasons that the District is feeling the effects of what we believe will be a $1.7 million shortfall of funds from the Legislature.”

In addition, a social media challenge has been launched, “Challenging you to do the $202.”

Jenks Public Schools have a budget cut of $3.7 million and will cut 29 jobs, including 10 teachers.

Tulsa Community College is eliminating only 15 full-time staff positions due to state budget cuts.

TCC is dropping 15 part-time positions. In the past two fiscal years, TCC has trimmed 184 full- and part-time jobs through attrition.

The community college, one of the biggest employers in Tulsa, could get as much as $7 million less in state funding for the next fiscal year. The school’s new payroll should be around $80,000,000.00.

TCC officials say they are considering a tuition increase and could hike fees, although those cannot be raised enough to make the shortfall.