OKCPS cuts
Members of the Wilson Elementary School PTA meet Tuesday, May 10, after the Oklahoma City Public Schools District announced $10 million of additional cuts for next school year. (William W. Savage III)

As part of $10 million in cuts to the 2016-2017 Oklahoma City Public Schools budget, the district announced Tuesday it will eliminate funding for several college-related student tests.

In addition to funding for tests — which include AP, IB, SAT and PSAT — a press release said the district will be “revising school bell times for more efficient bus routes,” as well as “suspending non-federally funded travel” and “reducing elementary school supply budgets,” among other OKCPS cuts.

“It looks like elementary schools are going to take a hit with their supplies,” said Jennifer Bowman, a member of the Wilson Elementary School PTA. “That’s extremely disappointing because children need supplies to learn, especially when they go to an arts-integrated school where the learning involves creating.”

OKCPS media relations director Mark Myers said other savings will be implemented beyond the 10 bullet points listed in Tuesday’s release. He said some contracts and contract positions are on the chopping block, though all affected parties have yet to be notified.

“We’re going to have another announcement in the coming days regarding more cuts that could include consolidation of some of the schools, more employee cuts, stuff like that,” Myers said.

That announcement will include additional cuts to the tune of $7 million, and Myers said he expects details at the next OKCPS board meeting, 5:30 p.m. Monday.

‘A reflection of the entire city’

Amy Curran is also part of the Wilson Elementary PTA, and Tuesday evening she sat at a meeting with Bowman discussing the day’s developments.

“As a parent with kids in the district, it’s feeling very lonely as far as people who don’t have kids just acting like, ‘Well, you saw it coming,’” Curran said. “The schools are a reflection of the entire city. It’s feeling a lot like it’s coming down on the teachers and the parents, and that other people — while it makes a good news story — aren’t really proactively doing anything to make real change.”

Curran said her fifth grader will be going to Classen SAS next year, and she expressed concern about how OKCPS cuts would limit the advanced-testing options at the school.

Tuesday’s announcement is expected to result in $10 million in savings for the district, and a March announcement of teacher reductions was intended to save $13 million. The district is trying to close a $30 million hole, the OKCPS release said.

“Obviously, this is a difficult time for school districts statewide,” OKCPS acting superintendent Aurora Lora said in the release. “The only remedy to the situation would be for the Legislature to provide a permanent solution that ensures educational funding is sufficient for all students.”

Revenue failure compounds existing woes

The district had already announced 208 classroom-teaching positions would be eliminated for next school year, and Myers said that number will remain the same.

“Two-hundred and eight is what we announced,” Myers said. “I’m going to be honest with you. A lot of those aren’t going to be physical cuts because we’ve had a lot of attrition — teachers who are leaving to go to other districts, teachers who are retiring, teachers who aren’t coming back for whatever reason.”

Oklahoma education funding issues are a combination of many forces, though cuts resulting from the state’s revenue failure have compounded an already dicey fiscal picture.

“Federal E-rate funding, we lost some funding there as well, so that also caused some of the issues that we are facing,” Myers said. “And then as was explained today, we started spending on levels to get our staffing where it needed to be, but then once we started losing state funding and federal funding, then the domino effect started happening. That’s how we got to the number of $30 million.”

The district spokesman was blunt when asked how the overall education funding picture looked in Oklahoma.

“This is a catastrophic financial issue that we are facing in our school district — that school districts are facing across the state,” he said.

Bowman did not mince words either.

“Sad. Disappointed,” she said of her emotions. “Especially when you take a school like ours. We have such a diverse socioeconomic background in our group of students. We do everything we can to get them where they need to be to get onto the next level, but when you start losing resources, you start losing maybe the one chance that kid’s going to have to have someone reading to him or providing books.”

Mixed emotions on tax initiative

Neither Bowman nor Curran said they felt strongly about State Question 779, commonly known as the Boren sales tax initiative petition that would be projected to raise $615 million annually for common education, higher education and career techs.

Curran said she was concerned that much of the money proposed in SQ 779 would go to higher education and not common education schools.

“I guess pay attention at the next election,” she said.

Amber England, executive director of Stand for Children Oklahoma, said she hopes the public does just that. Her organization is heavily involved in supporting SQ 779.

“I think it is absolutely terrible that schools are having to face these tough choices because ultimately these budget cuts have consequences that are affecting kids,” England said. “It’s clear that there has to be a comprehensive solution to address the funding issue in our schools.

“That’s why we are supporting SQ 779, because in addition to the $5,000 pay raise for teachers, there is also funding in the proposal for schools to address high-school graduation rates, college and career-readiness initiatives and reading programs in early grades. This is critical funding that’s needed to ensure we are not leaving the most at-risk kids behind.”

Tuesday’s OKCPS announcement of cuts can be seen below in full:

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