TPS may have to cut services to save teacher jobs
BY ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 08, 2012
5/08/12 at 9:57 AM
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Tulsa school board members said they are losing hope for an "eleventh-hour" budget reprieve to prevent the loss of 75 teaching positions and may have to consider options such as cutting bus service for magnet school students to protect the classroom.
"I think we have been hopeful that there would be some reprieve at the Legislature or we would be the beneficiaries of heroics on the part of governor and legislators who would come to the aid of public school children in the eleventh hour. Folks, we're at the eleventh hour and we're not getting any assistance," Board President Gary Percefull said at a Monday meeting.
"We don't want to be in the middle of the summer saying, 'Look what we're going to have to do now.' We are going to be faced with some pretty ugly choices over the next couple of months."
Tulsa Public Schools is in the process of slashing 150 teaching positions out of its ranks for 2012-13, in part because federal stimulus funding to save teacher jobs is running out.
During the last three years, TPS has cut about $23 million out of its budget, including the slashing of 130 administrative and support positions and then 225 teaching positions, engaging in an aggressive energy efficiency initiative to net utility cost savings and the closure of 13 schools in 2011.
"This really kind of comes down to we've got some legislators who think we're overweight and they're going to put us on a diet," Percefull said. "At this point, the only way to lose weight is you cut a limb off. We are using data to figure out if you take your right arm off or your left arm off. It amounts to being put on a diet that requires cannibalism."
The district's anticipated enrollment decrease of 485 students is largely driven by the impending closure of Greeley Elementary School to make way for a new charter school and the conversion of KIPP Tulsa College Preparatory School from a district contract school into a charter school.
The remaining 75 teaching positions must be cut because no more federal Jobs Bill funding will be available to prop up state aid to public schools.
The cuts would mean yet another round of class size increases throughout the district, plus the elimination of some foreign language, drivers education, music and Advanced Placement courses in secondary schools.
Parents from Lee Elementary School shared their concerns about how the teacher position cuts would affect their children.
Sarah Dougherty, who has one child at Lee, said the school is facing a second year without a district-funded art teacher and the cut of a third-grade position that result in at least 28 students in each class.
Carol Owens told the board that the third-grade teacher cut will affect her son, who she described as ranking in the academic middle.
"He will be left behind and not have that focus and it scares me because he has excelled so much in the environment he has been in. I just don't think it's fair to keep asking us as parents to keep having things taken away," Owens said.
Scott Carter, who has two children at Lee, noted that parents have even been volunteering as crossing guards since the city cut one of their guards.
"If there is a voucher agenda at the hands of (State Superintendent Janet) Barresi and her like and an active attempt to end public education as we know it, we need to be very clear about that and say, 'No, we don't want that,' " Carter said. "I don't want my kids in the University School, I don't want my kids in Marquette. I want my kids in Lee."
Steve Mayfield, executive assistant to associate superintendent of secondary schools, said the cuts will vary from high school to high school, but Webster is facing the elimination of band and Memorial may have some class sizes of 38 to 40 students.
Other administrators told the board that they are scouring the TPS budget for potential savings that could be put toward restoring some teaching positions.
Chief Financial Officer Trish Williams said every current and new vacancy will be scrutinized to see if it can be held open or eliminated altogether to fund additional teacher allocations.
She offered the example of the vacant chief human capital officer position, which she said would cover the cost of salaries and benefits for about three teachers.
Ben Stout, chief operations and information officer, said the idea of cutting some of its bus service that has been discussed for the last few years.
"TPS is to the point in many areas where we are going to have to start reducing services," Stout said. "Tulsa Public Schools is not mandated by law to provide transportation for all students."
This year, TPS is busing 4,912, or 63 percent of the 7,823 magnet students who are eligible for bus service under current school board policy. That requires 28 routes and 28 drivers, and including fuel and maintenance, costs an estimated $697,698 total.
Stout said on one hand, cutting those operating expenses would provide funding enough to cover the salaries and benefits of 16 classroom teachers. The downside, he said, could include lost revenues from fewer school meals served, higher student absenteeism, the possible loss of students to other area districts.
Superintendent Keith Ballard noted that "anything like this would require board approval."
Board member Ruth Ann Fate said she was "infuriated" by the situation.
She encouraged parents and other concerned patrons to "Plead, beg, pray - whatever it takes. Our children deserve better than this."
Original Print Headline: TPS may have to cut services
Andrea Eger 918-581-8470