Public schools cope with budget cuts

Tulsa Public Schools plans to eliminate 172 administration jobs in a move to cut $3.7 million in expenses in light of upcoming drops in state funding.

Due to a shortfall in state revenue, Tulsa got $4 million less this spring and projections show a drop of up to $20 million. The Legislature is dealing with a $1.3 billion budget shortfall for next year but Republican leadership has pledged to not let education cuts rise above 5 percent.

And lawmakers on March 10 agreed to take $51 million from the state Rainy Day Fund for public education and that has helped Tulsa.

The TPS board OKed a new budget amendment that reflects the loss of some state revenues.

Tulsa Superintendent Deborah Gist said the cuts will come at the Education Service Center, the Enrollment Center, the Wilson Teaching and Learning Academy and within transportation and maintenance departments.

Gist said no jobs would be cut at schools.

Some new positions will be created to merge the duties of the eliminated positions. The net result should be the loss of 106 jobs.

Formal approval of the plan will be voted on at TPS board meeting April 25, where a list of jobs that will be affected with be revealed. Gist has said previously that TPS could look at a four-day school week and reduction in bus services to save money. Staff cuts at schools could be down the road. About 25  employees have already accepted a buyout that the district offered in March.

The buyout roughly was a cash payment matching their base salary for the rest of the term of the contract. That number is expected to grow.

Deputy Superintendent Kim Dyce will step down from her position effective June 30, 2016. Dyce has decided “to pursue some new professional opportunities.”

“I have had some wonderful experiences at Tulsa Public Schools, and I am proud of my accomplishments during my tenure,” Dyce said. “I’m excited by the district’s bold new mission and vision, and I know that I’ll continue to hear great things about the work taking place in Tulsa. At the same time, I’m eager to explore other professional avenues in the public education field. I wish the teachers, staff, students and families of this amazing community the very best.”

A longtime educator, Dyce has worked in public education for over 26 years, and has served children and families in positions previously as teacher, principal, chief of staff and superintendent.

Catoosa Public Schools will go to a four-day class schedule and be closed on Fridays this fall due to anticipated shortfall of about $200,000 for the next fiscal year.

Jarod Mendenhall, superintendent of Broken Arrow Public Schools, said since state aid is the major funding for salaries, that is where the cuts must be made.

“With additional state revenue failures likely, we must implement long-term financial management strategies to ensure our district remains solvent,” Mendenhall said on the school website. “We are currently evaluating all possible cost savings. Because the vast majority of our state aid pays employee salaries, that is where we must make the deepest cuts. Naturally, a statement of this nature can be alarming to our employees and our community. People begin to speculate about how we will make these cuts which can result in rumors and misinformation.

“To set the record straight, I want to emphasize that our top priorities remain having a qualified teacher in every classroom and keeping class sizes manageable. But, we must face the realities of the situation.”

He expects reductions in central office staffs and support services to delay cuts at schools.

“We will try our best to avoid a reduction in force, primarily using attrition through resignations and retirements,” Mendenhall wrote. “As positions are eliminated, we will consolidate job responsibilities with those positions that remain. In a growing district, this means we must do more with less.”

In December, state officials announced a 3-percent cut to public education that amounted to $46.7 million. In March, another 4 percent, or $62.3 million statewide, was cut. The total cuts for this fiscal year was $109 million.

So far, Jenks Public Schools lost $558,000. Jenks could see reductions of up to $3.68 million for the next school year.

Jenks CFO Cody Way said the district has grown but state funding has not increased proportionately over the past few years.

“Although we try to identify several areas where our budget can be cut when we encounter these declines in revenue, at this time, we are also forced to look at a minimal reduction in the number of teachers in our District which could result in larger class sizes,” Way wrote on the school website.

Owasso Public Schools has lost $410,000 in state funds so far but another drop could come before the end of the fiscal year in June. The reduction for Owasso in the next school year could reach $2.8 million. The figures won’t be clear until the legislative session ends in May.

“If and when that ($2.8 million cut) happens will determine how deep our district has to cut to maintain full services,” Owasso Superintendent Clark Ogilvie wrote in a letter to patrons. “Those numbers are usually firmed up shortly after the legislative session by the State Department of Education.  In the meantime we will have to prepare for the worst-case scenarios in all areas and plan accordingly for the 2016-17 School Year. Once again I want to reassure everyone that our school district will survive this crisis but we may not look the same a year from today.”

The January cut cost Bixby Public Schools $201,650. The second cut was about double that.

Superintendent Kyle Wood, in a letter to the community, said Bixby would respond with a hiring freeze (that doesn’t include teachers) among support positions. It also means cuts to travel, professional development, supplies, equipment and materials.

Bixby is asking parents to donate copy paper tissues, antibacterial wipes and other materials.

“With about 89 percent of the district’s expenditures dedicated to personnel costs, the amount of cuts to nonpersonnel-related costs is finite,” Wood wrote. “No matter the need for cuts, we must pay utilities, insurance and fuel, for example.  In other words, a large amount of nonpersonnel related costs simply cannot be cut.  It’s inevitable, therefore, that further reductions in state aid to BPS will/shall/must come from personnel related costs.”

The shortfall in state aid for Bixby next school year could reach $1.7 million.