OKLAHOMA CITY - Staffing, services and support are all on the cutting block at Oklahoma City Public Schools as part of a $7 million budget cut proposal announced on Monday.
Monday's meeting was a culmination of months of frustration, and the final round of cuts could save the state's largest school district $30 million.
As parents sidled into their seats on Monday, they were greeted by the sounds of a student orchestra, courtesy of the Classen School of Advanced Studies.
Now, the orchestra along with fine arts district wide are facing a slash in their budget.
"These are dire financial times, and budget cuts present the school district with the most difficult and challenging decision the board has made in years," said Aurora Lora, Associate Superintendent of OKCPS.
Lora laid down her proposal for the board on Monday, a five-part plan that includes school consolidation and ending the current school year two days early:
"Today I am recommending an additional $7 million in budget cuts to the Board, which will bring the total amount of reductions to $30 million in staffing, services and support for our students. These are dire financial times, and the budget cuts present the school district with some of the most difficult and challenging decisions we have made in years.
We have spent many hours evaluating our options for this round of cuts, specifically in an effort to protect teaching jobs and our students’ educational experience. Although these cuts are extremely difficult, I believe we have approached the process with caring efficiency. In order to save an additional $7 million in the next fiscal year, I am asking the board to consider the following:
We have several schools in the district that are operating with fewer than 350 students. These schools are economically inefficient to operate and students in these smaller schools are not afforded many of the services students in our larger schools receive.
So our first criteria for selecting schools for consolidation was student population, followed by the square footage of the schools vs. space being utilized, and the proximity of other schools that could be combined. Based on these criteria, we are recommending that:
Kaiser East 5th and 6th Grade student will relocate to Kaiser Elementary. This will be a positive move for these students because they will now have access to a library and gym on the Kaiser Elementary campus.
We are also recommending that Greystone Lower Elementary Pre-K and kindergarten students relocate to Greystone Upper Elementary School. Although it does mean combining young children with upper elementary age students, this is a common arrangement at many of our schools.
As I mentioned, we are doing our best to protect teacher and principal positions. If these consolidations involve staffing changes, we do have vacancies for teacher and principal positions in other schools.
I am also recommending the district end the school calendar early by 2-days. This will provide some savings, and allow for additional professional development for staff.
We also plan to reorganize district operations, and printing services in communications for additional cost savings. We are cutting 30 percent of our cabinet positions and will no longer employ a Chief Operating Officer, a Chief Information Officer or an Associate Superintendent. Their leadership responsibilities will be absorbed by other cabinet members. Additional operational changes will be announced soon.
Reduce Athletics and Fine Arts Budgets
Another difficult recommendation is to reduce our athletics and fine arts site supply budgets by 25%, which will impact students in these programs. This includes employee reductions for adjunct athletic coaches.
We also have a proposed set of reductions that are being considered pending contract negotiations that are currently underway.
Finally, I am recommending that we declare several properties owned by the district surplus so that they may be put on the market to sell. They include:
• Dewey Elementary School
• Creston Hills Elementary
• Marcus Garvey Charter School
• Garden Oaks Elementary School
• Tyler Elementary School
• Valley Brook Elementary School
• 615 N. Classen Blvd, which was originally purchased as a new location for our district administration offices. We will evaluate alternative options for our administration offices among properties already owned by the district.
These are challenging times for us, and everyone is making difficult sacrifices to offset the state revenue failure. Our first priority is our students, and while we are doing all we can to minimize the impact on them, cuts this drastic will no doubt impact the quality of their education experience.
However, we have many dedicated teachers and principals in OKCPS who I know are committed to making the best of this difficult situation.
But, the crescendo of anticipation leading up to Monday's meeting didn't come from board members but by the students themselves.
Hundreds of students left class on Monday in protest - a walkout that was praised by board members.
A small group of students attended Monday's meeting, marching down the aisles in silence.
"Thank you for raising your voices together," said Board Member Carrie Jacobs. "Step two is to contact your representatives."
While tensions are high at OKCPS, board members hope the cuts provide clarity for a district looking to enter next year in harmony.
As for shortening the current school year, officials said board members will vote on the proposal during a special meeting on Wednesday.