Tulsa Public Schools spent the week notifying district office employees whose positions are being recommended for deletion as part of Superintendent Deborah Gist’s extensive budget-reduction plan.
Administrators notified 84 affected employees this week, both through face-to-face meetings and certified mail, about the proposal to eliminate their jobs. Friday morning, Gist sent a district-wide email announcing that all notifications have been completed.
The potential reduction in force is part of the superintendent’s Shaping Our Future plan, which requires slashing about $20 million from the 2020-21 budget. Gist proposed most of her budget-reduction recommendations at last week’s school board meeting. They involve closing four schools and slightly increasing elementary class sizes.
On Tuesday, the board received a memo from Gist detailing her final — and largest — recommendation that would eliminate and defund certain positions across all service areas considered part of the district office. The affected positions are assigned to the Education Service Center, the Enrollment Center, the Wilson Teaching and Learning Academy, the transportation office, the maintenance office and other offices within school buildings.
Gist said every district office function was carefully analyzed and considered for reduction and that job performance had no bearing on which positions were selected.
“My recommendations include position eliminations at every salary level, from lower paid employees to some of our highest paid employees,” her memo states. “Though the position eliminations will undoubtedly alter the work of the district and either directly or indirectly affect our schools, they are necessary given the financial context we must work within and the priorities we have identified in the work of Shaping Our Future.”
TPS officials say they can save approximately $6.1 million through personnel reductions, which include salaries and benefits, and $7.3 million through non-personnel reductions at the district office.
Details about personnel reductions are being withheld until a special board meeting next month in which board members will hear and vote on the recommendation.
Affected staff members will continue their employment until June 30 if the board approves the proposal, which also would create new positions to absorb the “critical functions of certain positions proposed for elimination or perform different work,” Gist stated in her all-staff email.
“We are welcoming and encouraging all team members affected by the proposed reduction in force to apply for any open positions in which they are interested and qualified — whether those are the proposed new positions or existing positions,” she said.
Employees whose jobs are being recommended for deletion will be provided with due process rights as may be required by law, Gist said. Eligible employees were provided with a written notice of their board hearing rights and may choose to argue against their termination at the special meeting in mid-February.
“It is because of these due process rights that we face limitations around sharing detailed information about the proposed reorganization related to this reduction in force,” Gist said. “In addition to our legal obligations, our core value of team means that we care for and support each other by protecting the privacy of our colleagues who are grappling with this difficult news.”
Meanwhile, board members on Tuesday will vote on closing four elementary schools — Jones, Grimes, Wright and Mark Twain — and increasing the elementary school staffing ratio by one student.
The school closures are expected to save the district $2 million to $3 million, while elementary staffing plan changes would save an estimated $3 million.
TPS has blamed its financial shortfall on a decade of declining enrollment and state funding cuts to education. The district reportedly cut $22 million between 2015 and 2019 and began relying on its fund balance to avoid a negative balance in its annually submitted budget.
Administrators project the gap between revenue and expenses could reach up to $20 million for the 2020-21 school year.
“After three reductions-in-force/reorganizations in the last four years, we understand all too well the serious impact that these decisions will have on affected employees and are working hard to minimize the financial and emotional strains this news will cause,” Gist said in her memo to the school board this week.