Hundreds of Oklahoma City students stage ‘walk-out’ to protest budget cuts

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Significant budget cuts are taking a toll on school districts across the state, and high school students in Oklahoma City say they have had enough.

Lawmakers across the state say drastic measures are needed in order to make up a $1.3 billion budget shortfall the state is facing.

Public schools are having their budgets slashed by millions, causing some districts to fire teachers and cancel popular programs just to stay below the red line.

On Monday, hundreds of  high school students U.S. Grant walked out of class to protest the budget cuts to Oklahoma City Public Schools.

The students were chanting "Save our teachers" and "No ifs. No buts. No budget cuts."

"We are tired of sitting back, sitting idle and letting the adults make the decisions for us when nothing is happening to them. This is our education that's being affected," Cassidy Coffey, a junior at U.S. Grant High School, said.

Coffey says she organized the protest through a closed Facebook group.

Her message resonated with students all across the district.

"I had an opportunity with golf. I could have maybe gotten a scholarship. Who knows? And they cut golf, so there you go. That went out the window. That's one less opportunity that I had," Coffey said.

Some teachers say they do not support the student led walk-out.

"State funding for schools is based on the daily average attendance," U.S. Grant teacher Mickey Dollens said. "I think a better way would be to go to the school board meeting tonight or a march at the Capitol."

U.S. Grant Principal Greg Frederick said the students would not face any disciplinary action besides being marked as absent.

The principal heard about the protest ahead of time and discouraged the students from going through with it.

"It's really adding insult to injury as far as getting a state funding message across when what they're doing right now is actually hurting our attendance and therefore our funding," Dollens said.

Student organizers say they will be outside protesting until 3 p.m. Monday before protesting  at the school board meeting at 5:30 p.m.

"Our generation is the future," Coffey said. "If children aren't learning to read and write because their classes are overcrowded or there's not enough teachers, our generations from here on out will become nothing but illiterate and ignorant."

The state's largest school district has specified $10 million in cuts, as it works to fill a $30 million budget hole next year.

Associate Superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools Aurora Lora said cost reductions will be achieved by:

  • Revising school bell times for more efficient bus routes: More schools may start at the same time to reduce the number of buses needed. "If we can get more schools that are all starting at the same time, we can reduce the number of buses we have on the road," Lora said.
  • Delaying new textbook purchases
  • Reducing school intersessions from five days to three days: Students who need extra tutoring in between terms will only be able to receive it three days a week instead of five.
  • Eliminating funding for student testing (PSAT/SAT testing, AP & IB testing): Students will no longer be able to take some of the tests for free as they currently do.
  • Reducing elementary school supply budgets: There will be a reduction of $10 per student in supply costs for the school.
  • Shifting of eligible expenses between funds
  • Delaying athletic equipment & uniform purchases: Excluding football helmets and other safety equipment
  • Reducing adjunct coaching positions
  • Reducing contracts with outside vendors: The district would not name names but said some contracts would be completely eliminated. For example, Lora said a company paid thousands of dollars a day to coach teachers would be replaced by staff already on payroll.
  • Suspending non-federally funded travel: This likely will affect central office, non-teaching staffers, who will no longer receive professional development.

In all, district officials say 600 students from U.S. Grant, 100 students from Jefferson Middle School, 150 students from Star Spencer and 300 students from Northwest Classen participated in the protest.

“When I talked to the students in the parking lot today, they voiced their disgust that some of their most influential teachers won’t be back next year, and others are concerned about activities going away,” Rep. Shane Stone said. “For some of these students, a five-day week means a guarantee of five hot meals throughout the week. Something must be done to reverse these draconian budget cuts.”

District leaders are expected to announce an addition $7 million in budget cuts at Monday's meeting.

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