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School District Administrators Brace for More Cuts

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Oklahoma school districts are already taking drastic steps to make up for this year's budget cut. Superintendents said they are worried next year's cuts could be worse. Oklahoma school districts are already taking drastic steps to make up for this year's budget cut. Superintendents said they are worried next year's cuts could be worse.
Many first-year teachers, including Keisha Cole, said they are worried about their future since first-year teachers are on temporary contracts and would likely be the first to go. Many first-year teachers, including Keisha Cole, said they are worried about their future since first-year teachers are on temporary contracts and would likely be the first to go.

By Amy Lester, Oklahoma Impact Team

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Superintendents and teachers across the state are losing sleep, worrying about the future of their schools. Districts already suffering from budget cuts this year anticipate next year will be worse.

"It has affected morale, you can tell, people are uncertain and fearful. I pick up on that in our district as well as the community," said Dr. Clark Ogilvie, Superintendent of Owasso Public Schools.

Districts are already taking serious steps to make up for current cuts. Some districts are changing to four day weeks to save money. Others are restricting travel, putting hiring freezes in place and offering early retirement incentives. Most districts have 80 to 90 percent of their budget tied up in salaries. So, if less money comes in next year, many will have to let employees go.

"I don't think there's any question. We will have to lose teachers for next year, good teachers. We will have to cut staff. We'll lose support staff. We're going to lose administrative staff. We're going to lose people all around," said Terry Simpson, Superintendent of Guthrie Public Schools.

The Speaker of the House, Chris Benge, said even if the state uses all of its reserves to make up for the revenue shortfall, agencies would still deal with a 10 percent across the board cut. Right now, the state has $460 million federal stimulus dollars and $149 million in the Rainy Day fund.

Where does this leave education?

"We've done a very good job so far of shielding education, probably more so than any other area in the budget, from cuts," said State Treasurer Scott Meacham. "I do think we will see probably some cuts to education next year."

That is the last thing teachers want to hear, especially first-year teachers. They're on temporary contracts and would be the first to go.

"It is always there in the back of your mind. Me and my husband are trying to find a house and it's like, well, what do we do? What price range? Should we even look for a house," said Keisha Cole, first-year teacher at Guthrie High School.

If Cole loses her job, she doesn't know where to turn. She said she worries that it will be nearly impossible to find a teaching job in Oklahoma because of the budget crisis. Cole cannot move out of state for a job either. Her husband is currently a student at the University of Oklahoma.

"I may not be able to teach, I guess, if I can't find a job. I'd have to find something else to do which would be horrible. I worked so hard in school and all my life to get to this," Cole said.

Cole said she will stay in limbo, indefinitely. Even though state law requires the legislature to fund education by April 1, that rarely happens. Meacham said this year won't be any different.

"I don't think that's going to happen this year, I think with the hole being as big as it is, it's going to take a lot of time to work this budget deal out," Meacham said.

Superintendents and teachers have no other choice but to wait and see what lawmakers decide.

"They were like, oh, we should know by April. Then, it's June.  It's like, well, just tell me when you can. I need to know as soon as possible so I can start making plans," Cole said. 

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