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OKCPS announces teacher cuts; warns of more cuts to come

Brett Dickerson / Red Dirt Report
Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Rob Neu acknowledges the crisis facing the school system.
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OKLAHOMA CITY - The Oklahoma City Public School District announced Wednesday it would cut 208 teaching positions, the first step in a move to correct a $30 million budget shortfall.

The district cited the budget crisis for the reduction in staffing and said the 208 classroom teaching positions will save the district $8 million. The adjustment will increase class sizes district-wide.

An additional $22 million in adjustments will be made in the coming months throughout the district that will impact all areas, including the Central Office.

Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Rob Neu said the state revenue shortfall had put the Oklahoma Public Schools in a catastrophic financial crisis.

“We will still not exceed the state mandated class sizes,” he said. “But we will have another $22 million in cuts over the next few months. No part of the district will be untouched, that includes the central office.”

The teacher cuts were announced first, he said, because the next school year’s master plans needed to be created and the schools were under a time crunch to do so. Each principal at each school will determine which courses would be affected. The positions cut will be based on a formula which Neu said would be “fair and equitable across the district.”

Neu said he hoped most of the cut positions would be done through natural attrition like retirement or teachers leaving the profession. However, if not, non-continuing contract teachers, usually the newest professionals, would be affected.

OKCPS currently employs 2,700 teachers district-wide with approximately 1,100 of those on non-continuing contracts.

“I believe the legislature needs to make the budget issue their main, if not only, priority,” Neu said. “The legislature should use this opportunity to address this issue in coming years so we do not have to build up and dismantle, build up and dismantle. All the support we’ve put in place this year is in jeopardy. We need to address the budget shortfall in what’s best for the kids.”

Currently, class sizes are mandated to 30 students per class in secondary schools, 27 to 28 in middle schools and 24 to 25 in elementary schools. Although Neu said class sizes would stay within the mandates, any time a class size increases causes detriment to both students and teachers.

Neu said he doesn't believe one school will be hit harder than another, but waited to announce the budget adjustment to make sure the district had as clear a budget picture as possible.

Just as the district announced the first step in cuts, the Governor’s Office announced it would tap nearly $80 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to help provide money for schools and corrections.

Oklahoma’s $1.3 billion shortfall in the budget means public schools alone will have nearly $110 million cut for the fiscal year that ends June 30.

Senate Bill (SB) 1572 appropriates $51 million to the State Department of Education to provide money for public schools and to pay the full cost of health insurance for teachers, administrators and support personnel. SB 1571 sends $27.5 million to the Department of Corrections (DOC) to pay prison staff and essential services for inmate population increases.

The news, while welcome, will not solve Oklahoma City Public School’s budget issue, Neu said.

“I appreciate the governor and legislative leadership tapping the Rainy Day Fund, but it will not have that great of an impact to the Oklahoma City Public Schools,” Neu said.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said throughout this fiscal year, districts have faced serious budget challenges, and this supplemental funding helps offset the impact of February’s revenue failure.

“Desperate times call for desperate measures, and we are grateful to Governor Fallin and the House and Senate for their willingness to use $51 million from the Rainy Day Fund to come to the aid of Oklahoma public schools,” she said.

Reductions in staff will go into effect next year, though affected teachers will be notified immediately.

“Everything is on the table,” Neu said. “It could affect every facet of the organization.”

While administrative positions will be cut, the district may be forced to shorten the school year.

Neu said he’d prefer to shorten the school year instead of shortening the school week, mostly because many Oklahoma City Public School students live in poverty and get their meals at the school.

“They’re not learning, and they’re not eating,” he said.  “If we reach a point where we can no longer offer quality education, we’ll have to shorten the calendar.”

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Heide Brandes

Heide Brandes is an award-winning journalist and editor with more than 18 years of experience....

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