Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist will present most of her recommendations for slashing approximately $20 million from the 2020-21 budget at Monday night’s school board meeting.
Board members will hear Gist’s proposal to close four elementary schools and slightly increase elementary class sizes as part of an effort to avoid a budget deficit next year.
They will not hear the recommendation containing the majority of the potential cuts, which involve reducing district office services and would save the district an estimated $13 million to $14 million. Reductions include operational efficiencies, as well as the creation and deletion of unspecified positions. Although the cuts would affect every district office team, Gist has said most of them are not personnel-related.
The recommendation targeting the district office likely won’t be presented until at least February. Most details about the positions and services being affected have not been released. District officials say they’re withholding the information to give them time to engage directly with affected staff members.
The rest of the superintendent’s proposal will be outlined in Monday’s meeting. The board is expected to vote on these recommendations at its next board meeting in two weeks.
A recommendation to change the elementary staffing plan reportedly would save about $3 million by basing allocations for general education teachers on schoolwide enrollment instead of grade-level ranges and increase the staffing ratio to 24-to-1 from 23-to-1.
This would bring the average elementary class size from 23 students to 24. Gist said 53% of classes would have fewer than 24 students, compared to 67% currently.
The proposal also seeks to close four elementary schools to save approximately $2 million to $3 million. Jones, Grimes and Wright would send their students to nearby schools next year, while Mark Twain would be consolidated into Wayman Tisdale Fine Arts Academy.
Gist has said the district would work one-on-one with affected teachers to help them find other opportunities within TPS.
Each school closure is listed as its own recommendation in the meeting agenda, meaning the board will vote on them individually.
The agenda describes the rationale for closing Wright, Mark Twain and Grimes by examining their low enrollment and low capacity utilization. Wright Elementary, for instance, has 225 students in prekindergarten through fifth grade, resulting in the school using 36% of its enrollment capacity.
“Schools that are unsustainably small result in students having less opportunity for small class sizes and less access to arts and wellness offerings,” the agenda states.
“At unsustainably small schools, the staff also have less access to professional learning opportunities. From a financial stewardship perspective, schools with less than 350 students also cost roughly $1,100 more per student in terms of school-level spending.”
Students who would have attended pre-K through fifth grade at Wright next year would attend Eliot Elementary or Patrick Henry Elementary, depending on where they live. The deaf-education program at Wright would move to Patrick Henry, according to the recommendation.
Students at Grimes would attend Carnegie or Key, depending on their residence, if the recommendation is approved.
Unlike the other schools recommended for closure, Jones Elementary is overcapacity and relies on portable trailers to house students.
“It is a facility that needs substantial upgrading and improvements to serve the needs of its students, but does not have adequate land or a physical structure to accommodate the necessary renovations without exorbitant cost to the district,” the agenda says.
Students at Jones would attend MacArthur, Lindbergh or Bell in 2020-21.