IM this article to a friend!

March 10, 2003

Schools face deeper hole with budgets

From: Daily Oklahoman, OK - 10 Mar 2003

By Christy Watson
The Oklahoman

Schools aren't banking on legislators to help them crawl out of a financial hole next school year, despite assurances that education is a priority and will be funded earlier than in past years.

Some districts unsure of next year's funding are set to declare teacher layoffs and consider school closures this week, even though they have until April 10 to notify teachers whether their contracts will be renewed.

"My fear is not cutting enough, because right now I'm taking the crystal ball and trying to figure out what might get cut," Marlow schools Superintendent George Coffman Jr. said.

"I cannot see our Legislature wrecking the highway patrol and all the other agencies just to hold education harmless."

Marlow laid off 19 support staff members earlier this school year. At a school board meeting tonight, Coffman will recommend cutting seven teachers.

If approved, the move will end the deaf education program and will seriously curtail vocational technology programs, he said.

Altus school officials could decide this week whether to close the 73-year-old Eugene Field Elementary. If approved, school officials said the closure also could eliminate three teachers' jobs.

Reserves shrinking
Schools have weathered more than $158 million in budget cuts this school year, although legislators tapped the Rainy Day Fund for $25.5 million in emergency funding that went to schools last week.

State officials expect to have $677 million less to fund state agencies in fiscal 2004 than they did before ordering the first cuts in February 2002 .

Legislators haven't decided how the money will be divided, but state schools Superintendent Sandy Garrett said she hopes they'll take up the issue this week.

Most public schools rely heavily on state funding to pay for day-to-day operations and necessities such as textbooks. Many exhausted their cash reserves at the end of last school year because of cuts during the last four months of school, draining their only financial safety net.

On Friday, school leaders learned they may face still more cuts this school year.

"It's just one bad piece of news after another," Sand Springs schools Superintendent Lloyd Snow said.

The Sand Springs school board voted last week to shut down the 130-student Twin Cities Elementary School next year, saving an estimated $674,000. No teachers are expected to lose their jobs because of the closure.

The district also may cancel some vocational programs, Snow said.

Oklahoma City school officials expect to finish this year with little or no cash reserves and want to close seven schools in the fall to absorb $1.9 million in maintenance and operational costs. All but one of the schools were scheduled for eventual shuttering under a school construction plan, but the closures probably will come earlier.

Interim Superintendent Pam Powell said she'd rather close schools than lay off teachers to make up for anticipated cuts of about $3.5 million.

Manny Soto, the district's chief operations officer, said other reductions made at midyear will be continued next year, including cuts in janitorial services.

Counting on attrition
Tulsa school officials say they've elected "to stay the course" and have not yet put in place additional cuts for next year.

"The experience of last year was enough to make this district and (Superintendent David) Sawyer and all of us on the leadership team very, very cautious," spokesman John Hammill said.

The district anticipated a $17 million funding cut for this year, but that has dwindled to $13 million, Hammill said. The district's enrollment went up, providing a little extra midyear funding. However, Hammill said the district won't know how much reserves it has until June.

Large districts such as Tulsa traditionally have many teacher resignations and retirements. Hammill said some of those positions may not be filled before the next school year.

Budget cuts

Several school districts have approved or are recommending budget cuts to take effect next school year:

Norman is changing its high school class schedules to save money and will eliminate 10 teaching positions. Further cuts in administration and support staff are expected.

Broken Arrow school officials haven't made a final decision on a recommendation to cut 40 teachers and increase class sizes districtwide.

Glencoe schools won't hire a new high school principal and will lay off three teachers.

Midwest City-Del City school leaders will decide later this month whether to cut more than 100 teachers and support staff before next school year. Administrators also are proposing pay cuts for central office employees, including the superintendent.

Putnam City school officials rejected the idea of closing an elementary school but may still lay off teachers.
Last week, several school districts announced layoffs and school closure plans that will affect thousands of students statewide.

© 2003, Produced by NewsOK