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Bond issues help prevent staffing cuts

posted Mar 23, 2017, 6:39 AM by Granger Meador   [ updated Mar 23, 2017, 6:39 AM ]
The successful August 2016 bond issues for the Bartlesville Public Schools were motivated primarily by repeated shortfalls in state funding in early 2016. Repeated cuts in state funding since 2008 had led to a reduction in the district fund balance from 15% to below 6%, a level too low to ensure it could cover its December payroll as it awaited receipt of property tax revenues in January.

So for the 2016-2017 school year, the district cut 5% of its teachers and additional administrators and support staff to address the continued loss of revenue from the state. But the district wisely did not trust that the state economy would improve nor that the legislature and governor would adequately fund public education and other state services. Since state leaders had failed to address school funding shortfalls since 2008, the district decided to seek help from local voters.

State Leads Nation in School Funding Cuts

Nearly 27 percent of state per pupil funding, adjusted for inflation, has been cut since 2008. That figure not only leads the nation but is nearly double the percentage of cuts made by Alabama, the second worst state for education funding reductions.


LOCAL VOTERS SHOW THEIR SUPPORT

The district went to voters in August 2016, asking them to increase local property taxes in order to shift at least $700,000 in additional annual operating expenses from the district's general fund to bond funds. The district projected that 15 or more teaching positions could be preserved from future cuts by this action. Local voters overwhelmingly approved, with 70% and 73% voting YES on two bond issues.

MORE STATE REVENUE FAILURES

During the current school year, the state has again had revenue failures in both its general fund and in dedicated funding sources for public schools. Preston Birk, the district's Chief Financial Officer, reported on 3/20/2017 to the Bartlesville Board of Education that the district is down $380,000 in state appropriated revenue from the already dismal funding from the prior year. At the current pace, he projected the district might be losing an additional $750,000 in state funding over the entire 2016-2017 school year.

BOND ISSUES ARE HELPING PREVENT ADDITIONAL TEACHER CUTS

The good news is that the district is currently NOT planning on any reduction in teachers nor an increase in average class sizes for 2017-2018 despite the continued reduction in state funding. The shifting of expenses to the bond issues is clearly a key reason for that happy outcome, along with additional administrative streamlining for 2017-2018 and the staffing cuts already implemented in 2016-2017.

FUND BALANCE SLOWLY RECOVERING

Mr. Birk reported that, with the staffing cuts and shifting of expenses to bond funds, the fund balance is projected to be at or above the minimum safe 7% level by the end of the fiscal year. Hopefully it might approach 8%.

YOUR SCHOOLS NEED HELP FROM YOUR STATE GOVERNMENT

Oklahoma is in an education funding crisis. Teacher salaries are so low that Bartlesville and other districts statewide are unable to find certified teachers for all open positions, even with large staffing cuts. 

District operating revenues are so low that the district has had to ask voters to raise local property taxes to make up for the massive reductions in state funding. If, as projected, the district loses another $750,000 in state funding by the end of this school year, that will exceed the operational expense shifts provided by the bond issues. So the remaining loss and any additional future cuts will have to be borne by past and future staffing cuts.

Bartlesville voters can be proud that their support is why their district has some of the lowest average class sizes among the state's large 6A districts. But until there is a change in attitude and support for schools in state government, the district will continue to be unable to find enough certified teachers to fill open positions. And if funding shortfalls are not addressed, eventually the district will be forced to cut more teachers and raise class sizes further.

EDUCATION LEGISLATIVE FORUM ON APRIL 7

Our local legislators - Rep. Earl Sears, Rep. Travis Dunlap, and Sen. Julie Daniels - have graciously agreed to participate in an Education Legislative Forum on Friday, April 7 from 8 to 9 a.m. in the Fine Arts Center Auditorium at Bartlesville High School. The public is invited and encouraged to attend. We particularly hope that parents and grandparents who are able to attend will turn out and participate.
Legislative Forum

State funding cuts
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Granger Meador,
Mar 23, 2017, 6:39 AM