State Board of Education cuts $46.7 million from budget

Deanna EvansJournal-Capital

Pawhuska Public Schools faces a budget cut of $270,000 for the remainder of this school year, according to Superintendent Dr. Landon Berry.

In the wake of a revenue failure affecting all of Oklahoma state government, the State Board of Education on Jan. 7 approved a required 3-percent reduction in a $46.7 million funding cut for pre-K-12 public education. The reduction impacts the remaining six months of Fiscal Year 2016, which ends June 30.

The Journal-Capital contacted Berry’s office for more information on how the budget cuts will impact PPS.

“Current year: We will not make any nonessential purchases,” said Berry. “We will not change programs for the current year. Decisions will be made at a later day for the next year.”

The budget was discussed during the school board meeting on Monday night.

Berry said the local district has sustained at least a $270,000 decrease in state funding for 2015-16. He warned the board that at least one additional cut is expected before the school year ends.

“The scary thing is that there could be more,” said Berry. “It’s not a pretty picture.”

Berry said district officials had anticipated major budget reductions, especially due to “extreme” losses in gross production and motor vehicle tax amounts. He added that Pawhuska schools had a good carryover from the previous year’s budget, which left them in far better financial standing than schools in many of the state’s other districts.

The superintendent said the funding outlook looks even grimmer for next year, as state officials “already are talking about a possible billion dollar shortfall.”

“There is no denying that this cut poses serious challenges for school districts during a time in which every dollar already is precious, and not all districts will be affected the same way,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister.

Hofmeister said, “The State Board of Education and Oklahoma State Department of Education have addressed the required cuts as fairly and judiciously as possible, while attempting to minimize student impact.”

Following the announcement of the cuts, Oklahoma State School Boards Association issued the following statement: “School leaders know the state board of education had no choice today but to enact cuts. We appreciate the efforts of Superintendent Hofmeister, board members and education department staff to arrive at a solution that cushions the blow as much as possible.”

The statement added that educators realize this is a financially challenging time for schools, and “the need for a long-term funding plan for public education has never been more obvious. …”

While the cuts are certain to have a significant effect on Oklahoma’s 550-plus school districts, a figure that includes charters and co-ops, Hofmeister and her fellow board members were able to soften the blow by transferring $4.6 million from the Public School Activities appropriation to the State Aid Funding Formula that provides the bulk of money to school districts.

Each line item in School Activities took a minimum 3-percent cut, which includes such programs as alternative education, Teach for America, the early childhood initiative, Sooner Start and the Oklahoma Arts Institute. Four line items are contributing well above 3 percent to cushion a hit on the funding formula. In addition to the transferal, the board approved a $3.9 million cut in the School Activities appropriation.

After the transferal, the funding formula — also known as Financial Support for Public Schools — takes a $25 million funding cut.

Flexible Benefits Allowance funding to districts will be lessened by $12.4 million, a 3-percent cut.

The cuts will be reflected in the next six monthly payments to school districts.

J-C Reporter Mike Erwin contributed to this report.