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“We’re just down to the bone,” Oklahoma schools forced to make deeper cuts to their budget

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OKLAHOMA - The state's purse strings are tightening and Oklahoma leaders say that could force some schools to close their doors.

“Some school districts are going to have a very difficult time remaining open,” said Oklahoma State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister.

Tough words, but a reality for Oklahoma school districts.

The cuts are across the board - 3 percent mandatory cuts to government funded agencies.

On Thursday, the State Board of Education approved a reduced budget.

The group was able to move some funds around, decreasing the cut they will feel to about 2.5-percent, but still it will be tough to manage.

While almost every line in the education budget will be cut, there are four areas that will be hardest hit.

The school lunch match program will be cut 30 percent. AP teacher training and fee assistance will take a nearly 55 percent cut.

Staff development is being cut 50 percent and the STEM programs will take a full 100 percent cut.

It is not the news any district wants to hear halfway through the school year.

“It is hard to imagine a scenario where students will not be negatively impacted at this point in the year,” said Hofmeister.

Districts are now looking to trim their already slim budgets.

“We're just down to the bone,” said Carl Johnson, superintendent of Jones Public Schools.

The cuts are mandatory because of the state's general revenue fund shortfall.

“We know tough choices have to be made,” said Hofmeister.

“At this point in the year, we've already committed to salaries, utilities, text books, software subscriptions,” said Johnson.

Districts, like Jones, aren't sure where the cuts will go.

“Music program at the elementary, Art at the elementary are the first to go,” Johnson said.

Some districts are going to have to cut deeper, meaning some will be forced to increase class size, eliminate special programs, cut teachers and, where possible, consolidate services with other districts.

“It's just hard,” Johnson said.

While Jones currently has enough to get them through the beginning of next year, other districts in the state don't have enough.

“I can definitely tell you there are districts out there hurting badly right now,” said one speaker at Thursday's meeting.

State education officials say there are some districts that get very little funding from the state and therefore will likely be okay.

However, others rely heavily on state dollars.

Those districts will be the ones to suffer the most.

Hofmeister said, “We have districts out there that have a very low cash fund balance and if they don't make some difficult decisions, yes, they will be closing their doors.”

While those specific cuts are big, Hofmeister says districts can still choose to fund those areas, such as STEM and staff development, if they have extra money in other areas.

Each district will have a better idea of the specific impact on their schools when they receive their “Mid-Year Adjustment” budget.

That should happen in the next 7 to 10 days.

State education officials say this may not be the last budget cut this school year.

There is another fund which could fail before the end of the school year.

If that happens, districts will be forced to make more cuts.