Anger, sadness, confusion — those are some of the feelings area school officials expressed at a budget forum Thursday in Tulsa.
As they prepare for slashed budgets next school year, Oklahoma’s public schools were told this week another round of cuts will happen this year. Catoosa Superintendent Rick Kibbe said the state is in a crisis.
"And we as a people have to decide, hey, we can help. We can make a difference. I will volunteer. I will do what I can to elect people with a vision, and I will make sure that my legislators know what my vision is for this state," Kibbe said.
Kibbe started teaching in the 1980s and has seen a few oil booms and busts. He said schools made it work until the 2008 recession.
That’s when the federal government stepped in with $200 million the state was short for education. Kibbe said the understanding was Oklahoma would put that money back in better times.
"Well, as you know, it did not happen," Kibbe said. "And so, we had that deficit to overcome as well as the things we're trying to overcome now."
School officials from Owasso to Liberty say there’s little to nothing left to cut outside classrooms, and parents will be asked to fund basic needs more often.
The schools want businesses’ help in getting through to lawmakers. Administrators said it will soon become an economic issue, and Brian Paschal with the Tulsa Regional Chamber agreed.
"When you look at the quality of life of a community, strong public education is at the heart of that," Paschal said. "So really, investing in that resource benefits everyone, not just those with school children."
School officials called claims Oklahoma has preserved education funding "smoke and mirrors," saying education funding has fallen from 32 to 27 percent of Oklahoma’s budget and per-pupil spending is 25 percent below the national average.