2019-10-11 ne-tpsmeeting4523

Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist speaks to attendees of a community meeting regarding the coming $20 million budget shortfall for TPS on Oct. 10, 2019. JOSEPH RUSHMORE/for the Tulsa World

Tulsa Public Schools created momentum and rallied public concern while gathering public comment on how to cut $20 million from its budget. The district needs to keep that going.

Since September, TPS hosted a series of community forums across the district for patrons to have a say in setting priorities for the district moving forward. Hundreds attended the events and more participated in online surveys.

Superintendent Deborah Gist and top officials attended to hear suggestions, answer questions and alleviate fears and growing tension.

The process wasn’t perfect. The forms used were outdated and didn’t contain accurate financial ratios or data. Information such as an administrative organizational chart were slow in becoming available.

Still, district officials made the right move considering the significant challenge facing TPS.

The next steps are crucial in how the public will accept the final plan.

We encourage TPS officials to change their minds about having closed-door meetings among working groups formulating possible budget recommendations to the school board.

District officials have appointed groups representing various stakeholders to dive into the data and community input. This work is not public; discussions, debates and conclusions will be made without transparency to the public. That’s a mistake.

At crossroads moments such as the one TPS now finds itself, openness counts more than ever.

What should the final plan look like?

TPS enrollment has been on the decline while statewide public school enrollment has risen. Student recruitment and retention must be part of the final plan.

Administrative reductions were clearly popular in the public meetings, though Gist says such moves won’t be sufficient to make up the budget shortfall. We don’t dispute that, but think the final plan should move as much of the cutting from the classroom as possible, which puts administration a logical priority for prudent cuts.

Once a plan is in place, the public needs another chance to debate it.

Another public comment time is being planned after the recommendation is announced in December, but it is not enough time to re-engage patrons, especially during the busy holiday season.

That is why the entire process needs to be open. It will keep the public’s attention and explain — in real time — how the ultimate decisions will be made.

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