tpsmeeting (copy)

People listen as Tulsa Public Schools' superintendent Deborah Gist (above right) speaks during the Tulsa Public Schools community meeting concerning the coming $20 million shortfall, inside the McLain High School cafeteria, in September. CORY YOUNG/for the Tulsa World

Update: For the latest on this story, click here.


With school-closure rumors circulating on social media, Tulsa Public Schools said it will begin notifying families Tuesday with information about proposed changes related to budget cuts.

The district is in the process of cutting $20 million from its budget for the next school year. 

TPS, which has not confirmed rumors about possible closures, plans to divulge its recommendations for cuts during community meetings next week.

“As we work to shape a viable and sustainable future for our district, we have identified some possible changes that would — if approved by our board — impact teachers, students and families at certain schools in our district,” district spokeswoman Lauren Partain said in a statement. “We intend to share more information regarding potential changes with families on Tuesday. We will share information with press after it has been shared with our families.”

Officials hosted 11 community engagement meetings through September and October and created an online survey to hear from stakeholders about how the school district should slash $20 million from next year’s budget.

The district later released a report detailing the collected feedback, showing community members largely prioritized teacher compensation, class sizes and social-emotional learning and behavioral supports. They also indicated that they were most willing to make budget reductions related to student transportation and bell times, teacher leadership opportunities, building utilization and central office services.

After completing its initial community engagement phase, TPS conducted a series of closed working sessions with key stakeholders through November to dive into the input.

Now the district plans to share the ideas formulated in these meetings with the public during a second round of community meetings at four high schools from Dec. 9 through Dec. 12.

Superintendent Deborah Gist plans to propose a modified budget for 2020-21 to the school board by the end of January. Board members are expected to vote on the recommendations around that time.

During Monday’s regular meeting, Gist said board members will be faced with a tough decision that will impact the district’s future. But she believes the current recommendations won’t leave TPS in a state of disrepair.

“Because of the community’s involvement, because of the support that we’ve gotten through this process, we have landed on some recommendations that, while difficult in so many ways, are also very doable and leave us with the ability to do so much of the additional work that we’ve heard from the community about the things that people keep as a priority for our schools and want to make sure that we hold onto,” the superintendent said. “And that’s what we wanted, which is why we called the whole process Shaping our Future and didn’t see it as just an exercise in cutting to meet a bottom line.”

District officials largely blame the $20 million deficit on declining enrollment and a decade of state funding cuts to education.

Oklahoma slashed more per-pupil funding than any other state from 2008 to 2018. TPS saw an enrollment loss of 5,000 students during that time, lessening its share of the state aid through the funding formula. The district projected a revenue loss of about $15 million from 2018-19 through the current school year.

The district has cut $22 million since 2015 and dipped into its fund balance last year for the first time in a decade to avoid a negative balance. The fund balance is on track to run out by next year, giving way to the projected deficit.


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