Local & Regional
5:48 pm
Wed June 30, 2010

Union School Cuts

Tulsa, OK – Union Public Schools is cutting $3.5 million from next year's budget to deal with the state funding cuts. A total of 93 positions will be eliminated - mostly through attrition. Of the cuts, 53 are teaching positions, 34.5 are support positions, and 5.5 are administrative positions. District officials made the announcement during a news conference at the Union Education Service Center today (Wednesday, June 30).
Without adequate, accurate and dependable funding projections from the state, Union is being forced to consolidate services, eliminate professional development, and reduce some opportunities for students and staff. Budget cutting items include cuts to enrichment and remedial programs, library services, junior high alternative school, curriculum support, overtime, field trips, travel, and site/department budgets. It is expected that class sizes will rise.
Union is a district that historically grows in student population each year and is one of the largest employers in the Tulsa-Broken Arrow area. "In terms of being a contributor to the health of the community's economy, it is critical that we maintain a steady workforce to serve the needs of our students," according to Superintendent, Dr. Cathy Burden.
Without cuts last year Union should have had a general fund budget of over $100 million. Current projections place the 2010-11 budget closer to $93 million. State cuts in 2009-10 and additional state and federal reductions anticipated over the next two years threaten class sizes and the district's ability to offer a full range of academic programs.
In a discussion with the Board of Education on Tuesday, it was mentioned that it is ironic that public education is often criticized for not using better business practices. However, the reality is that Oklahoma's convoluted laws and practices make that almost impossible.
The legislature has passed laws that force districts to make contracts with their employees before the districts are notified of their funding. The accuracy of the state's projections about revenues has been very poor - if not downright deceiving recently - so districts have been forced to make a budget, begin school, and then deal with shortfalls that threaten their solvency.
Laws limit the district's ability to have a large enough ending fund balance to help weather the cuts that came frequently last year and are expected this year as well. The legislature always delays revealing education funding decisions until the end of May and then district allocations are not announced by the State Department of Education until the end of July. Intentional decisions by the legislature have reduced revenue to support education and have not guaranteed the stability of the funding that they announce publicly. School districts are then left to try to balance the need for services to students with prudent fiscal responsibility.
Debbie Jacoby, Union's Chief Financial Officer, indicated that Union patrons have historically been very supportive of their school district, passing annual bond issues and demonstrating pride in their schools. Prudent and proactive financial management in the past have helped the district avoid threats to the classroom, but with 87% of the budget spent on salaries and 5% of the budget required for utilities, cuts of this magnitude cannot avoid impacting programs that serve students.