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Oklahoma Schools May Face Layoffs, Consolidation

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Several Oklahoma school districts have reported having difficultly meeting payrolls, Shelly Hickman of the Oklahoma Department of Education reports. Several Oklahoma school districts have reported having difficultly meeting payrolls, Shelly Hickman of the Oklahoma Department of Education reports.
At the same time as the budget crisis, Oklahoma schools have gained about 10,000 students this year. At the same time as the budget crisis, Oklahoma schools have gained about 10,000 students this year.

By Joshua Brakhage, The News On 6

UNDATED -- Schools stretched to their financial limits may break as the state says more cutbacks are imminent.

Consolidation is possible, layoffs likely as a perfect storm strikes Oklahoma schools. Income taxes, corporate taxes and sales taxes have shriveled - leaving schools begging for scraps.

"The general fund is the primary source of their state aid, but 25% of their state aid comes from the House Bill 1017 fund. So we are very much concerned that it has been pretty much tapped out," said Shelly Hickman, Oklahoma Department of Education.

Oklahoma's public schools have more students in the classroom - up 10,000 from last year - and less money  as the state demanded 5% cuts across the board.

Those cuts pushed some districts to their breaking points. New cuts could force them to close.

"You can only cut so much," Hickman said. "We've heard from several districts who fear about meeting payroll, who don't know if they can continue to absorb these cuts in state aid."

"We know there are several districts out there who are concerned that they're not going to be able to make it," she said.

Worse yet, if schools close, neighboring districts would be forced to absorb students, and Hickman says few schools are prepared to deal with twice the problems they already face.

A total of 654,511 students are now enrolled in Oklahoma public schools, compared with 644,754 students last year. Figures also show that the Oklahoma City school district, with
42,570 students, is now the state's largest, surpassing Tulsa's 41,493 students.

10/30/2009 Related story: Oklahoma Public School Enrollment Climbs

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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