Area superintendents say Rep. Nelson's comments are 'height of hypocrisy'
BY KIM ARCHER World Staff Writer
Thursday, August 30, 2012
8/30/12 at 7:36 AM
Read more about how schools are coping with budget cuts and growing enrollments.
Some Tulsa-area public school superintendents are weighing in on a state lawmaker's assertion that districts are sitting on "hefty carryover funds" they could otherwise use to plug budget shortfalls.
Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, told state school board members last week that he couldn't understand why public school administrators were complaining about a $64 million loss in state aid when records show the state's 522 districts had $676 million in carryover funds last year.
"If you didn't spend from your savings account money at the depth of the worst recession in decades ... I'm not buying that argument," he said. "Where's the fire?"
In a written statement signed by 11 area superintendents, the administrators called Nelson's comments "the height of hypocrisy" because he is among the majority of legislators who support increasing the accrual rate of the state's "rainy day" fund to the maximum 15 percent allowed by law, which superintendents agree should be done.
"It is only sound, conservative fiscal policy and practice to have in place a Rainy Day Fund. ... In fact, this practice has historically been viewed as a prudent money-management practice which has proven effective in protecting taxpayer dollars," the statement said.
In the statement, administrators asked why it isn't a good practice and policy for school districts also to have rainy day funds.
"Does Rep. Nelson feel that he alone has more knowledge about fiscal responsibility and appropriate budgeting than all local school boards from across Oklahoma?" the statement said.
Nelson's comments before the state school board came after public school administrators were notified that their districts would receive less state aid to start the school year because the Oklahoma State Department of Education set aside $64 million of it for virtual and charter schools.
Many school superintendents expressed dismay because they expected to receive around the same amount as last year because legislators said the education budget would be flat this year.
Among those surveyed, every local school district reported less state aid compared with last year, including shortfalls of $1.75 million in Tulsa, $210,000 in Jenks, $522,827 in Owasso and $692,000 in Union.
"Unfortunately, the rainy day funds in each local public school district are not in place solely for 'rainy days,' " superintendents wrote.
School districts must draw from their fund balances in July and August of each fiscal year since state aid is not sent to local school districts until August, they said.
During those months, districts must pay costs associated with summer school, employee health insurance, supplies, some employee salaries, building repair and maintenance, textbooks, utility bills and more.
In addition, ad valorem funds are sent to local districts starting in late December or January of each fiscal year - six months after the fiscal year begins July 1, they wrote.
"Therefore, the carryover funds do not sit idle in any district," administrators wrote.
"Is Nelson unaware of all these budgetary details and necessities in public school districts, or does he for some reason choose to ignore the economic realities faced by local public school boards and their districts throughout Oklahoma?"
The statement was signed by Superintendents Kyle Wood, Bixby; Jarod Mendenhall, Broken Arrow; Rick Kibbe, Catoosa; Kathy Coley, Glenpool; Kirby Lehman, Jenks; Donna Campo, Liberty; Clark Ogilvie, Owasso; Lloyd Snow, Sand Springs; Kevin Burr, Sapulpa; Keith Ballard, Tulsa; and Cathy Burden, Union.
Original Print Headline: Superintendents challenge legislator's claim
Kim Archer 918-581-8315
Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City