School board votes to pursue lawsuit against state legislature

OKLAHOMA CITY - In an unanimous vote Monday, members of the Oklahoma City Public School board have decided to move forward with a lawsuit over educational funding.

The resolution was first announced last Thursday, with the official vote on Monday night at Northeast Academy.

Paula Lewis, chair of the OKCPS school board, said they are pleased with the decision.

"We are starting to say our kids can't take anymore," Lewis said. "We certainly need to fund all the kids in Oklahoma, and we need to provide the best education we can."

The measure stems from school funding cuts amid budget shortfalls. According to OKCPS Superintendent Aurora Lora, the district has had to cut upwards of $45 million from the budget over the past two years. It's an issue District 93 Representative Mickey Dollens said he's all too familiar with having spent two years at U.S. Grant High School.

"I’ve seen teachers panhandle on the streets for school supplies. I’ve seen teachers just get up and leave... our best and brightest, our actual state teachers of the year are going to Texas, that is unacceptable," Dollens said.

District 4 board member Mark Mann said OKCPS has been in contact with other districts in the state since Thursday's announcement. According to Mann, it's unclear exactly how much money will be spent on the lawsuit as there is a possibility of other districts joining the measure; however, he tells News 4 he perceives "little, if any" public money to be used in this lawsuit.

"Either through an outside entity or through the district that we set up a GoFundMe, I think we'll probably be able to fund a majority of this lawsuit without pulling any tax dollars into it all," explains Mann.

News 4 reached out to the office of House Speaker Charles McCall, who declined to comment further ahead of Monday night's meeting. In a past statement released to news outlets, McCall has called the lawsuit "frivolous" and a waste of taxpayer money.

In a full statement, McCall said:

"Every state agency has been asked to operate on less because our revenues are down, yet the Department of Education has received a flat budget while others have taken cuts. The Oklahoma Supreme Court has already adjudicated the issue of ‘adequate school funding’ and dismissed a similar challenge in 2007. Not only that, but according to Department of Education funding data, the Oklahoma City Public School District’s per pupil funding average is more than $1,000 per student higher than the state average. However, if Oklahoma City Public Schools is concerned about a lack of funding, then I'm certainly curious to know how they found the money for millions of dollars in pay increases for their staff. I would encourage them to spend their time and money on being better stewards of the dollars they receive instead of filing frivolous lawsuits that blame others for their own poor leadership. Not only would a lawsuit waste the school district’s money, it would waste additional taxpayer dollars to defend it. The Oklahoma City Public School District needs to stop playing political games and get back to educating students."

Mann said the next step is to begin interviewing potential law firms to represent the district in the lawsuit and establish costs and a timeline.