As you know, the State of Oklahoma continues to face hundreds of millions of dollars in budget shortfalls and funding to state agencies including common education is at risk for significant reductions. As a result, the district is planning for $4 to $10 million budget cuts for 2017-2018.
On March 20th, I proposed a School Consolidation Plan to the Board of Education, which would save the district more than $1.2 million dollars and provide additional educational resources for the students who would relocate to a neighboring school, including additional support staff, access to more fine arts and athletic programs, and improved opportunities for teachers to collaborate. Since then, the district held informational meetings at Johnson, Northeast, Gatewood, Edgemere, Green Pastures, and FD Moon. I also met with the district PTA, and our district student, teacher, and principal advisory committees to gather feedback. As I mentioned in every meeting, I wanted to bring a proposal forward for feedback before I made a final decision about what recommendation I would take to the Board. I did this because I believe it’s important for leaders to listen to the voices of the people that will be impacted before making any final decisions regarding changes to the district.
With feedback from our stakeholders in mind, this evening I presented an amended budget proposal to the board. I am now recommending that the district delay a plan for school consolidations and, instead, move forward with a plan to raise class sizes and reduce the number of vacant seats in our classrooms districtwide while also instituting a variety of other budget cuts which are managed via the Central Office. This would include things like eliminating a number of third party contracts, considering changes to our School Resource Officers program, moving our Central Office to temporary sites, pulling from our operating cash reserves, closing the Central Office during some break periods, and Central Office hiring freezes and position reductions. An increase in class sizes will certainly impact the number of teaching positions in the district. However, we hope to absorb those reductions via natural attrition and through the non-renewal of contracts for our non-continuing contract (NCC) teachers, who account for 32% of our teaching workforce. We believe we can manage Central Office reductions in the same way.
Although there is no easy way to cut an additional $4 to $10 million on top of the $30 million that we identified last summer, I do believe that this budget proposal is something we can manage as the district gathers additional information needed to inform our strategy for redrawing school boundaries and school consolidations.
Please be aware that we are carefully following the actions of our state legislature and advocating for our students and teachers. There is a possibility that the legislature will ask us to cut even deeper, maybe even up to $16.5 million. If that happens, we will be going back to the drawing board and will be forced to bring forward more drastic options.
If you were unable to join us for tonight’s Board meeting, I encourage you to watch the livestream playback on our YouTube channel. My presentation is also available on the district website.
As always, know that we are doing the best we can to make decisions that put our students first. This is a difficult time, but I remain committed to rebuilding your trust by providing transparency and through ongoing engagement with you and our families, students, and community members. Ultimately, we all want what is best for the children of OKCPS.