Tulsa floats huge school cut ideas

Tulsa Superintendent Deborah Gist, who makes more than $235,000 a year, is threatening to propose the elimination of funding for athletics, transportation, libraries, janitors and several other categories.

Gist’s list includes shortening the school year by seven days, ending most daily bus trips, eliminating athletics at high schools and middle schools, add one more student to average class sizes, closing one high school, cutting libraries, reducing counseling, a four-day school week, less campus security, less custodial service, close an elementary school, end after-school bus travel and some minor administrative cuts.

Even though the Legislature has not determined the education budget for the next fiscal year, Gist has ordered an online survey of Tulsans that suggests cuts that amount to much more than the anticipated shortfall.

But according to Brad Clark, general counsel for the Oklahoma State Board of Education, Tulsa Public Schools had a carryover balance from the previous fiscal year of $31,408,216.08. For Union Public Schools, the carryover was $15,132,375.41.

The annual budget for TPS is about $244,000,000.00.

“Given our abysmal public education funding situation, school districts throughout Oklahoma are facing incredibly difficult decisions to keep the lights on and the doors open to serve our children and families,” Gist said. “As we did last year, we will start as far from the classroom as possible and take another look at our central office team. Given that the percentage of our budget going toward administrative costs is low, it is unlikely that we will be able to protect our students and teachers from feeling the impact of these cuts.”

In 2016, 30 TPS administrators got raises that were almost $300,000 a year. In August last year, the Tulsa School Board, with the recommendation of Gist, hired two new administrators – Errick Greene from Detroit Public Schools and Devin Fletcher from Denver Public Schools.

Greene reportedly will be paid $157,100 a year while Fletcher will make $155,700 a year.

Gist insists that the money isn’t available to maintain current programs.

“These are not decisions that we want to make-but these are options we will be forced to consider to make up for cuts of this magnitude. We are weighing one vital service against another, and any of these choices are completely unacceptable,” said Gist. “We will do all that we can to minimize the impact on students, teachers, and schools, but we do expect that these cuts will be felt in classrooms throughout our district next year.”

Gist signed a three-year contract in 2015 with a base pay of $235,000 and an annual performance incentive bonus of $25,000. If she stays three years, she also gets a $75,000 retention bonus. Her package also includes retirement, vacation and health insurance plus a car, a cellphone and other incidentals.

Oklahoma City School Superintendent Aurora Lora in 2106 signed a 3-year contract with a base salary of  $220,000, with longevity bonuses of $10,000 and $15,000.

Lora is asking for feedback on a plan to either close or consolidate several schools, including Edgemere Elementary, FD Moon Academy, Gatewood Elementary, Green Pastures Elementary and Johnson Elementary.

“We also plan to transition Northeast Academy into a neighborhood middle school, which will serve the Douglass feeder pattern,” Lora said.

A vote on a consolidation plan is expected this month in Oklahoma City.

“Although change is difficult, I am confident this School Consolidation Plan will allow our students to have access to additional educational resources and will create permanent cost-savings for the district, which is a necessity during these tough budget times,” Lora said.

Lora has said closing schools with low enrollments would save the district $1.2 million in staff and utility costs and give affected children access to counselors and assistant principals.

The school district is preparing to slash between $4 million and $10 million from the budget in anticipation of a nearly $900 million shortfall the state is projecting for the 2018 fiscal year. Lora thinks the shortfall could hit $16 million.

Cost-saving Proposals

$6.8 million Shorten school year by seven days
$4.4 million Cutback most daily bus transportation
$1.8 million End high school athletic programs
$1.5 million Add one student per average class size
$1.0 million Close one high school
$1.0 million Cut back library services
$1.0 million Cut student counseling services
$0.7 million Four-day school week
$0.6 million Reduce campus security
$0.4 million Cut custodian service
$0.3 million Close an elementary school
$0.3 million Cut after-school bus travel
$0.3 million Administrative cuts
$0.1 million End middle school athletics