The Tulsa school board on Monday approved a preliminary budget that reduces previously proposed cuts by half and restores 42 of the 142 previously eliminated teacher positions.
In the spring, district leaders had identified $13 million in spending cuts in anticipation of a state funding loss of $13.5 million to $20 million. But officials dialed back the spending cuts to $6.75 million when asking the school board to approve a preliminary budget for fiscal year 2017.
“The (state funding) reduction is far less than we anticipated,” said TPS Chief Financial Officer Trish Williams. “Still, knowing the outlook for the state economy, it wouldn’t have been prudent for us to build back everything into our budget.”
Because the state Legislature did not pass a fiscal year 2017 budget until late May, school district leaders across the state planned for their new budgets and staffing levels on estimates and guesses about how much of the $1.3 billion state budget shortfall would be passed along to local schools.
In April and early May, the Tulsa school board approved plans to reduce teachers, central office workers, school bus drivers, and campus police and security officers by a net total of 244 employees.
On Monday, the school board got a look at how 41 full-time and one half-time teaching positions plus six school social workers will be added back into the 2016-17 staffing plan for schools. The anticipated cost for salaries and benefits is $3.2 million.
Williams said 24 positions will be in the areas of science, technology, engineering, arts and math, plus 12.5 positions for English Language Learners, one position for world language and four positions for fine arts.
Superintendent Deborah Gist said Tulsa Public Schools will continue to grapple with “many, many years of underfunding schools” and teacher salaries that make it “very difficult” to recruit and retain teachers.
“While we’re still very concerned and while we will continue to advocate for our students and teachers, we are pleased to be able to restore those positions,” Gist said.
Also added back will be six school social workers previously funded by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.
Board Vice President Suzanne Schreiber noted, “That’s an additional cut we are making up for on behalf of the state.”
Finally, three positions restored in the district’s budget are for support workers, at an anticipated cost of $141,300.
Revenue projections include $1.9 million growth in local tax revenue collections and a $1.3 million reduction in federal program funding. Overall, the preliminary budget for fiscal year 2017 includes a 2.2 percent reduction in expenditures compared to the budget for fiscal year 2016, ending June 30.
Williams noted to the school board that Tulsa Public Schools’ carryover fund will decline from $32.4 million in 2016 to $30.5 million in 2017, representing 9.6 percent of budgeted revenue — far below the 14 percent allowed by state law for a district of Tulsa’s size.
“The two main purposes of a carryover are unexpected shortfalls and cash flow needs. Our monthly payroll is $22 million, and we have about $9 million in accounts payable each month, so that carryover isn’t even enough to cover one month’s cash requirements,” Williams explained to the Tulsa World.
In other business: The school board got its first look at a plan to expand educational choice for families in Tulsa through “partnership schools.”
The Rev. Ray Owens, pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church, told the school board his church’s nonprofit arm, MET CARES, will be applying to become Tulsa Public Schools’ first partnership school.
“Until an education in north Tulsa measures up to an education in south Tulsa, we simply cannot rest,” Owens said, accompanied by more than 125 supporters at the meeting. “We and our 2,000 supporters are committed to this work with TPS.”
MET CARES has worked for several years on a plan to create as many as seven charter schools in north Tulsa. But Owens told the school board that the nonprofit now prefers the new “partnership” school option because it represents “a genuine and productive collaboration between the district and our community supporters.”
District officials told the board that partnership schools would have greater district oversight than independent charter schools, but the partnership would have “enhanced autonomy over budget, curriculum, professional learning, staffing, academic year calendar and school bell times, and assessments.”