Tulsa Public Schools Could Close Up To 17 Schools

Monday, March 28th 2011, 7:38 pm
By: News On 6

Ashli Sims, News On 6

TULSA, Oklahoma -- Tulsa Public Schools released three scenarios to shake up the district, eliminate schools, and save millions of dollars.

Under the three proposals, elementary schools will be hit the hardest with ten to fifteen of them slated to close. The district also could shutter up to four middle schools.

Only one of the district's plans included shutting down a high school, Central High School, located at 3101 West Edison Street. All three proposals call for Addams, Barnard, Burroughs, Cherokee, Phillips, Sandburg, and Whitman elementary schools to be closed.

TPS's superintendent, Dr. Keith Ballard, says the district "has gone through a long slow period of decline that has left many of our schools greatly under capacity."

3/28/2011 Related Story: Tulsa Public Schools To Release 'Project Schoolhouse' Proposals

Ballard says the district has more than 10,000 empty seats and that has resulted in "vast disparities" throughout Tulsa Public Schools. All three plans would slash the number of empty seats by more than half.

Proposal A would cut 13 elementary schools, three middle schools, cutting 6,819 seats and saving $6.3 million.

Proposal B would eliminate the fewest school sites, closing ten elementary and four middle schools for a total of 5,911 seats and $6.1 million in savings.

Proposal C would slash the most sites, eliminating 15 elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school for a total of 7,914 seats and $9.5 million in savings.

Read all three proposals.

Beyond cutting schools, several proposals would completely reorganize how Tulsa schools are structured. The plans include adding sixth-graders to some elementary schools, making some high schools seventh through twelfth grade, or investing in more than a dozen early childhood centers.

Read FAQ's on the three proposals.

Two proposals would reinvent Rogers High School, which has struggled academically, as a "Lottery Magnet."  Students would have the opportunity to graduate with a high school diploma and an associate's degree from Tulsa Community College.

One plan calls for expanding Tulsa's two demonstration academies, Mayo and Thoreau. Both buildings would be closed and the programs relocated to Grimes Elementary and Nimitz Middle School.

The district has been working on this consolidation plan, dubbed Project Schoolhouse, since last November.

The district deployed three teams to research consolidation, including a project team of TPS administrators, an advisory council of 14 community members hand-picked by the school board, and a Big Sky Group, which was charged with thinking outside of the box for education improvements.

Ballard says with state dollars continuing to run short and federal dollars drying up, the district's financial reality makes cuts inevitable. He also says with fewer schools the district would be able to offer a "full slate of learning opportunities to all students."

The district says some of the savings, which could add up to as much as $9.5 million, will be reinvested in the schools to provide more enrichment, curriculum, and access to art, band, orchestra, drama and other extra-curricular activities. Ballard says even with the "trade-ups" the consolidation plans will result in net savings to the district.

"I would caution parents, students, teachers, and other TPS employees against considering any of these plans 'a done deal,'" Ballard said.  "None of these plans are final, and until a final recommendation is made to the school board and passed, they are just that- proposals."

District leaders say the surveys and community forum feedback will inform the final recommendation, which is expected to be presented to the Tulsa school board by the end of April.

The board is scheduled to vote on the final proposal on May 2, 2011.

"There is no one perfect solution," Dr. Ballard added.  "That's why I think it's even more critical that we make these proposals available to the public for discussion."

There is a public meeting Tuesday evening sponsored by the Tulsa League of Women Voters to talk about the proposals.  It starts at 5 p.m. at the Fellowship Congressional Church at 29th and Harvard.