City of Tulsa and Tulsa Public Schools officials got together Wednesday to discuss education funding they describe as “beyond crisis.”
Loose ideas for local funding came up, including a package for voters to decide on and special taxing districts to benefit education. TPS Superintendent Deborah Gist said there are still a lot of legal unknowns when it comes to funding outside the state aid formula.
"So, we don't have a very specific path right now for Tulsa for this coming school year, but what we do have is a very strong commitment from our mayor, from our city council and from our board of education to work together to find some solutions," Gist said.
TPS anticipates losing $12 million in state funding for next school year. That’s on top of what they lost to start this year and through several midyear cuts, including $1 million last week and another $1 million in both May and June.
City Councilor Anna America said school cuts aren’t just hurting the district. They’re also a real obstacle to attracting businesses and new residents.
"We've got to address this together, as a team. It is not 'their' problem; it is our problem," America said.
A special taxing district often tied to economic development emerged as the leading idea to boost education funding in Tulsa. Tax increment financing — or TIF — districts capture a portion of property tax revenue to subsidize public improvements.
TIFs could be set up to direct some of that portion to schools, either regularly or at certain milestones. City Councilor Blake Ewing said schools may lose out on some money initially, but TIFs are usually good for all involved.
"The property value of an empty field is much less than the property value of a developed, commercial building or something like that, so I think it's an important thing that we should be considering how to do better," Ewing said.
Moving forward, a working group will focus on TIF development. City councilors, Mayor G.T. Bynum and TPS officials anticipate future meetings similar to Wednesday's.