OKLAHOMA CITY – While state agencies continue to have their budgets slashed, school districts are trying to make ends meet.
After state officials announced that Oklahoma is facing a $1.3 billion shortfall in the budget, public schools across the state prepared for budget cuts.
Public schools alone will have nearly $110 million cut from their budget for the fiscal year that ends June 30.
State leaders agreed to use some money from the Rainy Day Fund to prevent massive cuts to education, but school leaders say that’s only the beginning and won’t stop the cuts from affecting students.
In fact, several districts in the metro are taking drastic measures to stay on budget.
In a post by Mid-Del Superintendent Dr. Rick Cobb, he said, “I’m worried about finishing this year with enough money to make payroll and pay all of our bills. I’m more concerned with next year.”
Several programs were cut, but were reinstated after a donation by a citizen.
Cobb said the district could be dealing with a $10 million shortfall next year, leading to possible cuts in building repairs, bus routes, elementary athletics and sixth grade athletics.
Now, Oklahoma City Public Schools says it is being forced to make tough decisions regarding jobs in order to pay the bills.
On Wednesday, Oklahoma City Public Schools announced that the district is “facing a catastrophic budget crisis due to a statewide revenue shortfall.”
Officials say 208 teaching positions will be cut, which will save the district $8 million, but will also increase class sizes.
“The budget outlook continues to be abysmal and OKCPS Leadership is exploring an additional $22 million in adjustments throughout that will impact all areas of the District including Central Office,” the announcement said.
Experts say the changes will have an immediate and negative impact on children.
“Well, it’s sad. It’s a sad day in Oklahoma. These children are going to be affected by these massive layoffs. There’s no way to avoid that,” Ginger Tinney, the executive director of Professional Oklahoma Educators. “The teacher is the most important person with the student, so we respectfully ask the superintendent, I know he’s under tremendous stress right now, to consider that as he’s making important decisions.”
Tinney says she believes other places can be cut rather than the classroom.
“They’re scared and afraid they’re going to lose their jobs,” Tinney said of educators. “I just want to encourage teachers. I know this is a hard time but remember your focus is on the students and they need you right now.”
Ed Allen of Oklahoma City’s chapter of the American Federation of Teachers is worried increased class sizes will force some teachers out.
“When you have just another issue that you have to deal with and add to your stress, I’m worried that more of our teachers will leave,” he said. “If you’re an elementary school teacher and already have 35 kids in your classroom, just adding one more is problematic for that teacher and ought to be problematic for every parent.”
Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Rob Neu held a news conference on Wednesday to discuss the teachers that will be affected by the cuts.
Neu says the district must fill a $30 million budget hole, so officials are looking at every option to try and make the numbers add up.
“No part of the organization will go untouched,” Neu said.
He says the district is cutting 208 teaching positions for next school year. He hopes that most of those positions will be vacated by teachers who are retiring, leaving the profession or moving to another area.
If 208 teachers don’t leave on their own, Neu says they will first cut some of the 1,100 teachers who have non-continuing contracts.
After that, positions will be cut based on certification or subject.
“We have no choice,” Neu said.
With fewer teachers in the classroom, class sizes will increase. Neu says he is hoping that classes will stay under 30 students per classroom at the high school level, 27-28 at the middle school level and 24-25 at the elementary school level.
“We know increasing class size isn’t good for kids,” he said.
Neu says this is the only cut to teachers that he foresees, adding that cuts for other departments are already in the works.
“Everything is on the table,” he said. “It could affect every facet of the organization.”
He says administrative positions will be cut, adding that they also may be forced to shorten the school year.
Neu says he knows that would negatively impact many of the students who are living in poverty.
“This is where they get their meals,” Neu says.
He adds that when the students aren’t in the classroom, “they’re not learning, they’re not eating.”
Neu also called on the legislature to come up with a more permanent solution to the budget crisis instead of constantly cutting education.
“We can’t continue to build and dismantle, build and dismantle,” he said.