Slash to Oklahoma Budget Means Teacher Cuts In Grove

Thursday, February 11th 2016, 6:34 pm

Layoffs are looming, as public schools in Oklahoma prepare for more budget cuts to state education. Some of the smaller districts are starting to feel the effects.

The Grove Public School District is bracing for a 10 percent cut in state funding, which superintendent Sandy Coaly says comes out to about $1.1 million.

“You started out your school year with a budget number, and you planned on that budget, and now it's just dwindling,” Coaly said.          

Coaly says Vinita Schools operates off a $16 million budget, 82 percent of that goes to pay salaries and $3.8 million comes from the state.  

So far in the 2015-2016 school year, the district has lost $270,000 in state-allocated money. That's the salary of about five teachers, Coaly says.

Fortunately, the district has enough money saved to continue paying all salaries through the end of the year.     

“What options do you have when you're gonna have to cut that much money out of your budget,” Coaly said.

Next week, Coaly says districts statewide will learn how much more state funding will be cut. She fears it could be 10 percent.

“The word has been out that we could get another cut after the February cut, possibly in April or May,” Coaly said. “You just sort of feel like you're feeling your way around in the dark because you don't know exactly what you're gonna bump into yet.”

Coaly says she’s taking a proactive approach, out of respect for her teachers. At the beginning of February, Coaly gave 12 entry-level teachers a heads up that they may be let go at the end of the year.

“It's very sad when you look at a young teacher that has a family and you know that they need a job, and you're telling them you're gonna let them go,” she said.  “If I were in their shoes, I would want my employer to let me know earlier so I could brush my resume up and start looking for a job.”

The cuts to education run deep and few public schools in the state are safe, which is why Coaly and school leaders from neighboring towns Vinita and Jay met to share ideas how to save money while maintaining quality education.

“Everything is really detrimental to kids when you're making cuts,” Vinita Superintendent Kelly Grimmett said.

“We're in the position now where we just have to figure out what is the least detrimental to our students and that's a sad, sad day in education.”

Vinita and Jay Public Schools could both lose between $700,000 and $1 million in state funding.  And Jay’s school board is tossing around the idea of cutting back to a four-day school week to save on costs.                 

“When your overall budget is right around $12 million, that's a big hit because most of that money has to come from teachers' salaries,” Grimmett said.

Grimmett says Vinita won't have to get rid of any teachers this year, but it's only a matter of time.        

“The biggest concern is the students. You have to pile kids in classes, basically,” he said. “It's a tough situation. Plus we're begging people to get into the teaching field and now we're having to turn people lose, it's crazy.”

The educators say it's the children who are at risk, and their future lies in the hands of lawmakers.

“Don't forgot who educated you so you could get to the point of life that you're in today,” Coaly said, referring to state legislators. “There's some very intelligent people who sit on that capitol floor, but they started off in a classroom and that's where they learned their education, their basic education, don't forget that; it's important.”

The Grove School Board voted to let school out 10 days early to save money on food, transportation and support staff salaries. Coaly says there are fears funding could be cut up to 12 percent more in the 2016-2017 school year.

“I think that we have to let the citizens in Oklahoma know that education is being put on the back burner and it's time to move it to the front,” Coaly said.