Oklahoma public schools fear more state cuts; funding drops to 2004 levels, despite increasing enrollment.
BY ANDREA EGER & KIM ARCHER World Staff Writers
Monday, April 23, 2012
4/23/12 at 9:57 AM
As parents and students try to rally support for public school funding, local school district officials say they are scraping the bottom of the barrel as they prepare their budgets for the upcoming school year.
Their rallying cry is for schools to be funded at 2007-08 levels. In the year 2012, public schools are receiving state aid levels that match those of 2004.
"Our state aid is back to 2004 levels, yet our district has gained nearly 1,700 students over that time," Jenks Middle School Principal Rob Miller said. "Without increases to state aid in future years, we will continue to be challenged by very large class sizes."
Grass-roots parent groups formed in the last few weeks have called on every school site in Tulsa to enlist at least 100 parents, students and teachers to attend a rally, which is set for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the field house at Edison Preparatory School, 2906 E. 41st St.
Featured speakers will include Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard and Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association President Lynn Stockley, as well as parents, teachers and principals. Legislators are being asked to attend.
Ballard said Oklahoma taxpayers can be assured that public schools have scrubbed their budgets and cut funding to everything else before they cut classroom funding.
"We have done everything in our power over the last three years to shield students. We are at the end of the line," Ballard said. "We have cut everything from energy programs to administrative costs to closing schools. We worked hard because we knew revenues were down and we appreciate the fact that we have to live within our state's means."
He opposes an income tax cut that would keep $56 million out of state coffers.
"We don't have to keep cutting. It's in the hands of the Legislature. They have the will, they have the authority and they have the power to stop this cutting right now," Ballard said. "We can restore at a minimum, $50 million, and we can keep about 80 teachers."
Tulsa Public Schools is in the process of slashing 150 teaching positions out of its ranks for 2012-13, in part because federal stimulus funds to save teacher jobs is running out.
The state lowered its cap on schools' administrative costs from 6 percent to 5 percent of a district's overall budget, effective July 2011. Local leaders say their schools operate well below that cap.
Owasso has kept its administrative costs at 2.3 percent over the last five years, while Jenks has stayed at 3.5 percent or less during that time. Tulsa's administrative costs are 3.1 percent of its budget this year.
Trish Williams, chief financial officer at TPS, said she understands why people scrutinize administrative costs more than ever when times are tough, but her district reduced administrative positions by 15 percent in 2009-10 and another 8 percent in 2010-11.
Also, TPS qualifies for a great deal of grant funding because a high percentage of its students come from low socio-economic families. Williams said she thinks many people would be surprised to know that 30 percent of the district's administrators are paid with external grants because of those program's requirements for extensive compliance reporting and auditing.
Tulsa officials are still hoping for additional retirements and resignations from administrative ranks so that as many of those positions as possible can be converted to teaching positions, Williams said.
Suburbs share concerns
In ever-expanding suburban districts, balancing the budget means anticipating costs for an unknown number of new faces.
Broken Arrow has gained 965 students since 2009. Since 2008, Owasso has grown by 723 students, Jenks has seen an influx of 1,058 students and Union has picked up an additional 471.
Union Public Schools did not provide budget data requested through an Open Records request by the Tulsa World, but the district has cut hundreds of positions in recent years, according to Debbie Jacoby, chief financial officer. Union offered early retirement to teachers at the high end of its pay scale and replaced them with newer teachers who are paid less.
The district also has eliminated positions that were left by teachers who resigned or retired, evaluating each position independently to see if it could be eliminated. That has resulted in extra work for employees and larger class sizes, but it had to be done, she said.
"Sadly, we are at a point where we don't have a lot of additional cost-cutting measures that can be employed, based on the continual loss of state aid per child," Jacoby said.
Union has built energy efficiency into each of its school buildings, maximizing heating and cooling costs as much as possible, she said.
"We estimate that if we were continuing to receive the same amount per weighted child that we received in 2008, we would have an additional $6 million in our budget," Jacoby said. "That would certainly go a very long ways to reducing our class size through additional teachers, teacher aides and being able to provide better transportation to more students.
"We clearly would love to have that money back that has been lost over the years, but we understand the situation that the state is in financially and so we will continue to try and save every dollar that we can," Jacoby said.
In spite of the growth of nearly 500 students in Jenks, the district has cut more than $2 million from its budget, leading to unwieldy class sizes.
The current year's state aid matches that of the year 2004, but Jenks has seen nearly 1,700 students move into its district since then. In fact, per-pupil state funding in the district has dropped $463 just since 2009-10 to a projected $5,830 for 2011-12, district data shows.
Since 2008-09, the level fell $258.
The Broken Arrow district braced for the anticipated loss of federal stimulus funds to save teacher jobs in this fall by cutting back teachers and services in 2010.
"That was our choice as a district. We anticipated the worst, we came in better," Dwayne Thompson, chief financial officer, recently told the Broken Arrow school board. "In 2010, we cut the budget by $5.6 million. We wanted to make sure we had a high enough fund balance to weather the storm, which we did, and then we wanted to make the necessary cuts so we could function."
The total loss in state aid and property taxes since 2008-09 in Broken Arrow schools is just less than $6.8 million, he said.
Broken Arrow school spokeswoman Tara Thompson said the prospect of schools receiving no additional funding from the state is particularly alarming for growing districts.
"If our enrollment increases without any additional funding from the state, it's basically a budget cut because we have to produce the same level of service, but for more people," Thompson said.
Changing state aid revenues
State aid for Tulsa, Jenks and Union public schools for 2007-08 to estimated 2011-12
|Academic Year|| Tulsa|| Jenks ||Union|
|2007-08 ||$168,487,722 ||$29,016,214 ||$43,869,088|
|2008-09 ||$167,607,844 ||$29,740,420 ||$45,783,618|
|2009-10 ||$148,745,780|| $25,171,364 ||$39,052,169|
|2010-11|| $146,833,726|| $24,999,836|| $38,567,628|
|2011-12* ||$148,715,336 ||$27,738,143|| $40,301,303|
|Change from 2007-2012|| $-19,772,386 ||$-1,278,071|| $-3,567,785|
Source: School districts DAVID HOUSH / Tulsa World
A look at funding reductions in Tulsa area schools
Per pupil reductions since 2008-09
Broken Arrow $273.03
Source: School districts
Original Print Headline: Area schools fear more cuts
Andrea Eger 918-581-8470
Kim Archer 918-581-8315
Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard will be one of the featured speakers at a parent, teacher and student rally to increase school funding Thursday night at Edison Preparatory School. TOM GILBERT/Tulsa World