First Part of 2011 Budget Cuts Unveiled

Post date: Apr 8, 2011 1:03:14 AM

At its noon meeting on Thursday, April 7 the Bartlesville Board of Education received a recommendation from the Superintendent's Budget Development Committee to close Oak Park Elementary School after May 2011. The item was for discussion, and the action item to vote on closing the school will take place at the Board of Education meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, April 18. Oak Park faculty members were notified ahead of the meeting and a letter was sent home on Wednesday with Oak Park students. Letters have also gone out to parents of students at the other elementary schools since school boundaries would shift as part of the closure.

Oak Park is the smallest elementary school in the district with only 14 classrooms serving about 200 students from the Oak Park neighborhood and roughly 60 more students from other areas. In comparison, most of the other elementary schools are about twice that size. Over the years the district has closed many of its older and smaller neighborhood schools and this closure would leave the district with six elementary schools, each with a capacity of about 550 students. That size minimizes overhead costs in terms of staffing, e.g. principal, counselor, librarian, secretaries, custodians, and art/music/PE teachers.

The proposed closure is prompted by continuing cuts in state aid. The district lost $1,400,000 in state funding over the past three years and is projected to lose another $2,600,000 in state funding next year if the state education budget is cut by the latest projection of 4%. This year eight classrooms opened at Ranch Heights and next year eight more will open at Wayside and six at Wilson. The addition of these 14 new classrooms would offset the loss of 14 classrooms at Oak Park and save the district $600,000 annually in operating and staffing costs. (Increased busing costs and other adjustments are already included in that figure.)

If the district does not close Oak Park, that $600,000 in annual savings would have to be found elsewhere in the elementary budget, mostly by cutting over a dozen elementary teachers and classified staff. Since this would raise elementary class sizes across the district from the lower to the mid-20s and reduce instructional support, whereas overall average class sizes would not change much with the closure of Oak Park, the Superintendent's Budget Development Committee recommended the closure to protect the integrity of elementary instruction for all students.

Since there is capacity for teachers on continuing contracts now working at Oak Park to be reassigned to other sites, no reduction-in-force will be needed. However, the closure does rely upon attrition, involuntary transfers, and the non-renewal of some teachers on first-year temporary contracts.

Busing current Oak Park neighborhood students to Wilson and redirecting Osage County students now attending Oak Park to Jane Phillips will require that most elementary school boundaries be redrawn. Thus there will be students at other schools who will have to switch schools so that all elementary class sizes are balanced as much as possible for equitable instruction. Middle school boundaries will shift as well to help balance them since Madison is currently larger than Central, creating inequities in class sizes and teaching loads.

Click the image at right for the redrawn map, or download the PDF file.

The existing attendance boundaries are shown in the image below. Click the image below for the existing map, or download the PDF file.

Tulsa Public Schools has been in the news as of late because of their own closure plans. Bartlesville is already much more efficient than Tulsa in its use of facilities and staff because of a series of closures and consolidations it made from 1968 through 1986:

Closed Bartlesville Elementary Schools

Horace Mann, 11th & Jennings, 1907-1968, one newer portion is part of the ESC

Douglass, 5th & Virginia, 1912-1971, sold in 1971

Garfield, 6th & Cherokee, 1904-1974, demolished in the 1980s

Washington, 3rd & Seminole, 1907-1978, sold in 1998

Lincoln, 1st & Penn, 1914-1983, sold in 1984

Highland Park, 1920-1984, demolished in the 1990s

Jefferson, 3rd & Choctaw, 1909-1985, demolished in the 1990s

McKinley, 1924-1985, still used for various services but planned to be vacated and sold in 2011-2012

Southview, 1950-1985, used for pre-school until 2003, sold in 2006

Limestone, 1939-1986, demolished in 2008

Will Rogers, 1955-1986, 2006-2010, will be used for services now housed at McKinley

Oak Park escaped the earlier closures, most likely because of its more isolated location. But the district administration has decided that budget pressures make the budgetary inefficiencies of such a small school no longer sustainable.

If the Board agrees to close the school, that will not conclude budget cuts for next year. The Superintendent's Budget Development Committee will meet on April 20 to prioritize a recommended list of what is to be funded and what is to be cut for 2011-2012, including further cuts across the grade levels. However, if adopted, the Oak Park savings would be a large portion of the elementary-level cuts. So we might expect more news on the next wave of proposed cuts in late April or early May, many targeted at grades 6-12 and general district operations. However, we won't know how much to actually cut until the legislature adopts a budget for common education. It has already yet again failed to meet its own deadline of April 1 for a common education budget and sometimes has not finalized that budget until the end of the session in late May.

The Committee is currently looking at a scenario of a $2,600,000 loss in state funding with across-the-board step salary costs of approximately $265,000. Despite spending $568,000 of the fund balance in 2010-2011, it is approaching $5,300,000, which is a record 16%, due not only to prior cuts and conservative budgeting, but also holding back $800,000 in federal jobs money received in December 2010 and $240,000 in mid-term growth funds. This was done to help offset next year's cuts. The Committee is considering recommending spending $1,000,000 or more of the fund balance for 2011-2012 and doing the same in 2012-2013 since we don't anticipate much, if any, help with state funding next year. Tentative projections are that the fund balance might fall to about 10% by the start of 2013-2014, which would still provide a good cushion against continuing state funding shortfalls. However, if Oak Park is not closed or similar elementary cost reductions are made, the fund balance could drop to around 6% by 2013, levels we have not seen since the district's controversial 1995 budget shortfall. The Committee strongly recommends not allowing the fund balance to drop so low, given the state's history of unfunded mandates and mid-year budget shortfalls.

The Budget Development Committee did not make the recommendation to close Oak Park lightly and urges those who are dissatisfied with ongoing cuts to express their concerns to our state legislators. The legislature allowed yet another income tax cut of over $120 million annually to occur this year, worsening a huge $500 million budget shortfall. When the legislature erodes the tax base while the economy falters, schools will inevitably suffer. Oklahoma school funding was already last in the region and in the bottom five states nationally.

Granger Meador

BEA Chief Negotiator and Teacher Representative on the Superintendent's Budget Development Committee

Superintendent's Budget Development Committee for FY 2012:

Dr. Gary Quinn, Superintendent

Mr. Tim Green, Exec. Dir. of Business & Finance

Mr. Chuck McCauley, Exec. Dir. of Human Resources

Ms. Dianne Martinez, Exec. Dir. of Elementary Instruction

Mr. Sam Herriman, Exec. Dir. of Secondary Instruction

Mr. Jason Langham, Mid-High Principal and representative for secondary sites

Mr. Dave Mueller, Ranch Heights Principal and representative for elementary sites

Mr. Robert Snellgrove, BECPO representative for classified personnel

Mr. Granger Meador, BEA Chief Negotiator, representative for certified personnel

Mr. Doug Divelbiss, Board of Education President

Ms. Nikki Benson, Board of Education Member

Mr. Rick Boswell, Board of Education Member