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School District Superintendents to Teachers: Prepare For More Budget Cuts

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Emily Wendler / KOSU
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Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Rob Neu and Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist speak to legislators at the State Capitol in February.

­­­­­Superintendents across the state are sending out warning letters to their teachers and staff, asking them to prepare for coming financial cuts caused by the state revenue failure.  

Dr. Kevin Wood of Bixby Public Schools told his staff that things were bad. The district lost about $200,000 during the first revenue failure in January, and is preparing to lose another $400,000 to $500,000 during the second revenue failure this month.

“I know. I know! These are HUGE numbers,” Wood wrote in his letter to teachers. “We should know by the end of next week the actual numbers... However, it is painfully obvious that the cuts will be severe.”

The first state revenue failure in January caused schools across the state to lose about 3 percent of their budget, totaling $47 million. This second revenue failure created an additional 4 percent cut at $62 million.

Wood said the Bixby district will undergo a hiring freeze, and will cut funding for travel, professional development, supplies, equipment, and materials.

Next year, he says, things are going to be even worse.

“Though it pains me to no end to write the following, I must: Class sizes in BPS [Bixby Public Schools] will go up next year. There will be more students and fewer teachers per student. We will make cuts. There will be administrative cost cuts such as cuts to administration salaries. No additional staff will be hired… Fewer and fewer services will be available to students, parents, and staff. There is simply no way to prevent cuts given the realities of the funding reductions from the state.”

In February, state officials confirmed a $1.3 billion budget shortfall for next year, meaning all state agencies are facing big financial cuts. No numbers are official yet, but schools are preparing for at least a 10 percent hit to their budgets.  

Districts across the state will deal with this differently. The Superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools, Dr. Deborah Gist, sent out a letter to her staff saying they are considering four-day school weeks, and cutting all bus transportation for students in order to save money.  

“Every single dollar in our system right now matters. We have taken many years of reductions, and so any of the niceties, any of the efficiencies, most of those have been found and discovered and handled already. So, any cutbacks at this point mean a change in our services, a change in our work,” Gist said in a video sent out to employees at Tulsa Public Schools.

The district of about 40,000 students is anticipating a $7 million to $20 million dollar cut to their budget for next year.

The State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Joy Hofmeister, called the cuts brutal and heartbreaking.

“A second General Revenue failure means schools will have lost nearly $110 million since the start of the spring semester alone, and that does not take into account next fiscal year, which looks equally bleak,” Hofmeister said in a press release. “Efforts that districts are making to cope with these cuts today will further impact the next school year, as they are forced to significantly deplete their cash-fund balances.”

Hofmeister requested $56.2 million in emergency supplemental funding from the Governor in order to cushion the effects to schools, but there’s no word yet whether that request will be granted, or is even possible.

Emily Wendler was KOSU's education reporter from 2015 to 2019.
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