Oklahoma schools are reeling from a tight year and may face a possible 10 percent budget cut for Fiscal Year 2011.

Although no decision has been officially made regarding the budget, 10 percent is the number being bandied about by legislators.

“There is still continuing discussion that (10 percent) is the number that people are looking at,” State Sen. Susan Paddack said.  “Everybody’s hoping that’s not the number but we’re hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.”

Todd Thomsen, state representative, said the 10 percent figure was uncertain and state legislators had a long way to go before they decided on a concrete number.

“The cuts that are being looked at for the FY 2011 budget are all speculation at this point because we just don’t know.  Nothing’s finalized,” he said.

Paddack said about one-third of rainy day funds have been expended this year.  She expects another one-third to be expended for FY 2011 and another one-third the year after.  Stimulus funds are also nearing their end, Thomsen said.

“As much as people are worried about FY 2011, some people are worried even more about FY 2012,” he said.

Taxes and other funds that go to the school budget have come up short due to recent economic turmoil.  Several ideas are being discussed by legislators to combat the budget short-falls.  Thomsen said every idea is on the table at this point.

“In light of current budget situations, everything will be thrown out there as an option,” he said.  “How serious those are is another question.”

Among the options discussed, school district consolidation has come up.  Shelley Hickman, public affairs press secretary for the State Department of Education, said school districts in Oklahoma have already decreased this year due to annexations.

“We started the school year with 532 (school districts) and we know that as of July 1, right now, there will be 529," she said.

Of the 35 percent of lottery funds that go toward education, 5 percent goes to a school consolidation assistance fund. Thomsen said that fund may be an incentive for some school districts to consolidate voluntarily.  He said, however, he hasn’t seen any indication that consolidation was being looked at by legislators more seriously than any other option.

“I haven’t seen a real number that says, ‘Here’s exactly what we would save in school consolidation,’” Thomsen said.

Thomsen and Paddack said although education’s budget was taking a hit, it would still be better off than a lot of other state agencies’ budgets.

“It’s a real challenge for everybody,” Thomsen said.  “I know everybody’s concerned and I don’t envy the position of superintendents and administrators in our area and the very difficult decisions that they are facing.”

Next: The Ada Evening News will explore the impact of budget cuts on local schools.

This Week's Circulars