Oklahoma school districts face budget shortfalls

BY MEGAN ROLLAND Modified: April 12, 2010 at 5:58 am •  Published: April 12, 2010
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While teachers in Tulsa Public Schools are bracing for hundreds of layoffs before next year, Oklahoma City Superintendent Karl Springer said his district could be in "arguably one of the better financial positions in the state of Oklahoma.”

Comparing the finances of Oklahoma’s two largest school districts is difficult at best.

Both have struggled this year with multi-million dollar deficits in operating budgets that exceed $300 million.

They have cut operations and economized. But while one district plans pink slips, the other has had few public discussions about the financial situation.

Oklahoma City Schools Chief Financial Officer Scott Randall estimates an $8.6 million revenue shortfall this year.

The district cut 25 percent of the central office and vehicle service center budgets, or approximately $1.25 million, and instituted a soft-hiring freeze.

Rather than layoffs, furloughs or pay cuts, Oklahoma City plans to pull $10 million from the district’s reserves to balance the 2010 budget, leaving the district with just over $10 million in reserve funds.

"We’ve drawn down half of our excess reserves in one year,” Board Member Steve Shafer said. "That’s scary because historically Oklahoma is a late recession state. I think the possibility or potential is there that though nationally things appear to be stabilizing. The likelihood is that we haven’t seen the worst of it.”

Tulsa Public Schools had a reserve fund this year of $7.4 million that can be used for general operating expenses and drew $500,000 of that to make up the deficit.

The Tulsa School board voted to not fill or terminate 126 central office positions and 226 teaching positions for a savings of about $13 million in fiscal year 2011.

Springer defended the decision to dip into reserves this year and next year as a necessary step to prevent setbacks in the education of children.


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