Pawhuska schools toe the budget line

Allison Weintraub |
Pawhuska School Superintendent Janet Neufeld sits with the materials she uses in planning meetings. The Pawhuska Public School proposed general funds budget for 2018 is the same as their 2017 budget. Allison Weintraub/journal capital

Despite deep cuts from the state legislature, Pawhuska Public Schools are not planning on any drastic budget cuts for the upcoming school year.

The education crisis has impacted Pawhuska schools deeply, with their total year cuts sitting at $172,975, of which $4,371 occurred in June alone. Their proposed general funds budget for fiscal year 2018 will be the same as this year’s budget — $6.4 million.

Superintendent Janet Neufeld, who has a doctorate in education leadership, said the cuts have forced schools to make tough choices. To deal with the cuts, Neufeld said her administrative team have had to be “very vigilant about holding the line on any money we’re spending.”

“We streamlined our 7-12 grades, so we have now shared staff 7-12 grade,” Neufeld said. “So, positions that we were overstaffed, we cut those positions and we did not fill them. That’s how we’re handling our cuts — through attrition.”

Several of the new initiatives Pawhuska has developed, like the Chromebook 1:1 initiative, have been accomplished through a grant from the Pawhuska Foundation for $6,250; along with other “pigeonholed” funds. Pawhuska’s school board voted on June 19 to roll out of the Chromebook initiative across the 7-12 grades.

“It’s great, because the state last year cut $38,000 worth of our textbook funds, which means that we did not have funds to update our curriculum,” Neufeld said.

The Oklahoma State School Boards Association surveyed approximately two-thirds of the Oklahoma school districts and found the FY2018 budget cuts will cause class size growth in 69 percent of the schools. Almost every district surveyed was considering cuts to summer programs, advanced classes, arts or athletics.

Shawn Hime, executive director of OSSBA, said the problems Pawhuska faces are similar to those faced across the state.

“I think [Pawhuska Public Schools] are in the same boat, in that they have hope. They have a desperate need for Oklahoma leaders to come together and develop a plan early next year to ensure that our schools have funding,” Hime said.

The district will be utilizing Google’s “G Suite for Education” program next year, which will help teachers find new ways to collaborate, collect resources and, ultimately, serve more students, Neufeld said. According to Neufeld, the funds for training teachers in the program came from professional development funds allocated by the state and federal government.

While the budget cuts have impacted class sizes and building repairs, Neufeld said the district has not discussed moving to a four-day week.

Another organization, the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration, has been vocally working with the legislature to find ways to fund school districts. In a statement released after the passage of the budget, Pam Deering, PhD, said while the organization appreciated the state’s efforts, there were still financial challenges.

“We have a growing student population, teachers are leaving the state in droves and we have a generation of students who deserve to have access to the educational resources they need to thrive and learn,” Deering said in a release.

Hime said schools demonstrate how best to weather the lack of funding.

“I think schools are a great example, where school board members, administrators, teachers, community members are coming together to try to find solutions,” Hime said.

Neufeld said she would ask her patrons to support education-friendly legislators.

“When the state doesn’t give us their share, that’s the greater share the people in the community have to pick up, through loss of jobs, through loss of student activities, through loss of student curriculum,” Neufeld said. “So when the state isn’t providing what they’re legally committed to provide, they’re hurting our communities.”