At Monday’s Board of Education meeting, Woodward Schools Superintendent Kyle Reynolds unveiled the beginnings of a plan to address $1 million in cuts the district is charged to make to its budget for the coming 2016-2017 school year.
The first casualty in the state economic slump and need for districts to slash the budget for the coming year appears to be summer school. Also on the hit list, a reduced police presence at Woodward schools among some possible losses of administrative and teaching personnel.
The cuts have become necessary because of an across the board state cut to education funding as well as cuts for almost every other state agency – a result of state revenue losses over the last two years of nearly $2 billion.
“We are faced with a challenge as far as our state funding goes. We have been told by organizations that represent us to plan on $200 per student reduction in our state funding and that is almost $1 million,” Reynolds said.
Initially the plan has identified the cutting of summer school and the absorption of natural attrition of retiring and resigning personnel, which will likely account for more than half of the needed general fund losses for the 2016-2017 school year, he said.
“Our primary, overarching goal in looking at our fiscal strategies for 2016-2017 will be focused on minimizing the negative impact on instruction and our overall operations of the district while reducing our general fund obligations by $1 million,” Reynolds said. “While we will scrutinize every expenditure for this coming year, we will do our best to make sure that core services continue and every teacher has the resources they need to teach class.”
The cancellation of summer school with an immediate $80,000 to $100,000 savings will reduce the impact of the cuts on instruction personnel, which is the administration’s goal, he said.
Financial woes for Oklahoma school districts began in earnest around the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year – but were already being talked about in January of 2015 when the state announced it would face a $611 million revenue shortfall.
Now, at the same time the state faces another revenue shortfall of $1.3 billion, it is also struggling to recreate its education standards after opting out of the Common Core curriculum in 2014, which required it to create and initiate a set of newly adopted standards by August of this year.
The state opted out of Common Core in June of 2014, just five months before the oil and gas industry began to nose dive, taking billions in tax revenue with it on a ride to a bottom that no one still seems to be able to predict.
Nevertheless, education reforms passed in 2005 still require districts to adhere to numerous mandates, including mandated multiple testing assessments through the year, ramped up professional development for teachers and required tutoring and reading academies set during summer months as well as the requirement to hold third graders not reading to grade level back from being promoted to the fourth grade.
Throughout the state on Monday, mandated end of instruction (EOI) testing began for students.
On Tuesday, Reynolds and many other administrators spent the day at the Oklahoma State Capitol pushing several bills aimed at making sense and possibly altering how reforms have been enacted. Each bill, including one that might reduce mandated assessments, is being considered by a legislature now acutely aware of a possible long-term economic slump in the state.
But it’s not soon enough to stop the impact of the massive state budget shortfalls to local students and their parents.
“I am saddened that we will not offer summer school this year, but at a savings of approximately $80,000 to $100,000 this will help us to lessen the impact for next school year,” Reynolds said. “ With the discontinuation of the School Based Social Worker program by DHS and reducing our SRO program by one officer, the district will save $84,000.
“With our Assistant Superintendent Tom Fisher and Technology Director Bryan Stephenson retiring, we will be able to hire them back part time next year at a drastically reduced wage and we are able to utilize our fund balance from the district’s building fund for maintenance department salaries. Those two items alone will save over $350,000 from the general fund. These strategies altogether will get us over halfway to our $1 million goal of reducing expenditures.”
He said while teachers are something he wants to place last on the list of district losses, there will likely have to be some cuts. The hope is that natural attrition will play the biggest role in this arm of the plan to make cuts in general fund expenditures.
Last year, about 44 teachers quit and either went to other districts, other jobs or left the state. The year before about 40 did the same.
“We are working with our site principals now to project next year’s enrollment, and we will be absorbing resignations, retirements and non-renewals of temporary contracts,” Reynolds said. “ This will allow a modest reduction in staff while maintaining class sizes in the lower 20’s at the elementary schools and mid-20’s at the secondary levels. Our focus is to have the best teaching and support staff possible.”