Financial woes are causing more Oklahoma districts to close schools

Financially strapped school districts in Oklahoma have shuttered nearly 30 schools since 2009, and more than a dozen others are on the chopping block, school officials say
BY VALLERY BROWN vbrown@opubco.com Published: March 30, 2011
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Financially strapped school districts have closed nearly 30 schools since 2009, and more than a dozen others are on the chopping block, school officials say.

Some schools in the more than 20 districts affected were annexed by other districts and old buildings shut down and put up for sale. Others were closed within districts to consolidate students at existing school sites.

In nearly all cases, the motive was to save money.

“The vast majority of cases that are seen in terms of closings are typically due to some kind of economic circumstances,” said Damon Gardenhire, spokesman for state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi.

School officials across the state say budget cuts and a loss of stimulus dollars have tightened finances, forcing cutbacks including school closures.

This week, Tulsa Public Schools officials said they were considering plans to close as many as 17 schools in an effort to save the district money and increase efficiencies. There are 85 schools in the district.

Officials have said changes could save the district between $6.1 million and $9.5 million annually.

Tulsa for many years was the largest school district in the state. As of this fall, more than 41,000 students were enrolled.

Oklahoma City Public Schools' enrollment at the beginning of this school year was about 43,000 students. The district began consolidating schools in 2001 after voters approved the nearly $700 million MAPS for Kids plan that called for closing 21 schools and constructing seven new ones. The district has about 80 schools.

Those plans have since changed as student populations boomed in south Oklahoma City and declined in other areas.

The district has closed at least a dozen schools under the MAPS for Kids plan. Three of those were originally scheduled to remain open including Dunbar Elementary. The district has voted to keep six schools open that were originally scheduled to be closed.