Gist recommends drastic cuts before budget is approved

Tulsa School Superintendent Deborah Gist is advocating drastic cuts to programs even though the amount of a shortfall in state funds is unknown.

At the April 5 school board meeting, Gist predicted a $12 million revenue shortfall but that number won’t be confirmed until the Legislature passes the new budget sometime in May.

In an effort to pressure lawmakers into pumping more money into Tulsa schools, Gist is advocating school consolidation, a series of furlough days plus consolidation and elimination of some high school and middle school athletic programs.

Her plan would consolidate ECDA Porter, Remington Elementary and Park Elementary – all in Southwest Tulsa. Those schools would wind up at the Clinton Middle School campus while Clinton students would shift to nearby Webster High School.

“We will not know until the state approves the budget what we will actually be dealing with, but this is an estimate that is one that we are confident, unfortunately, is in the ballpark,” Gist told the board. “We are very hopeful that we will not be facing the reduction that we’re expecting, but we are certainly in that situation now.”

The board is expected to act on the proposals, which Gist said came from a survey she oversaw.

District officials anticipate bringing final recommendations for cost-saving measures to the school board on May 1.

Another Gist proposal would be to trim two days of school next year for students and two unpaid furlough days for school employees. In that proposal, she would have three extra furlough days for some administrators (for a savings of less than $80,000).

Gist did not detail how she would slash the athletic programs at high schools and middle schools but it would involve the combination of two middle schools to field football, basketball, volleyball and soccer teams.

Other cuts by Gist would make adjustments to staffing, reduction of janitorial services, increasing the average high school class size by one student, the limiting of National Board Certified Teacher stipends, limiting the number of text books and downsizing Junior ROTC.

Gist claimed that the survey taken about the cuts showed that reducing administration services, consolidation of athletic programs and elimination of middle school athletics were at top of the list.

In the meantime, lawmakers are searching for ways to avoid cuts in common education in light of a projected $800,000,000.00 budget shortfall.

Earlier this year, State Rep. Michael Rogers, R-Broken Arrow, and other lawmakers met with some school superintendents to discuss improving teacher pay.

“Teacher pay is obviously the priority this year, and I believe House Republicans have the political will to get a responsible teacher pay raise plan passed,” said Rogers, R-Broken Arrow. “These meetings are productive because we have good discussions with superintendents about what the other priorities currently are and what they should be in the near future. That is a different approach from previous Legislatures. It’s not going to be short-term, year-by-year thinking on education anymore.

“We have new leadership and a lot of new members in the House, and we are looking three to five years ahead so that when revenues return – and they will – we are ready to address those important educational issues before we divert revenues to some other less important efforts.”

Rogers introduced House Bill 1114 which would raise teacher salaries by $1,000 the first year, $2,000 the second year and $3,000 in its third year.

It passed the House by a vote of 92-7 on March 7. On April 4, a Senate budget subcommittee approved HB1114, which would cost an estimated $53 million for each incremental raise of $1,000.

The bill would have to pass the Senate and be signed by Gov. Mary Fallin to become law.