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Task force has four consolidation ideas

Updated:
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A state education task force is preparing a report for release next week on coping with cutbacks in state revenue, including consolidation among the state's 541 school districts.

State Schools Superintendent Sandy Garrett said Thursday that the task force is also studying tax bases, government mandates that cause budget problems and efficiencies that can save money.

She said the report will not advocate or oppose consolidation but will explore the cost of various scenarios.

When revenue shortfalls were announced in November, Garrett formed a task force to explore cost-cutting and prepare a report for Gov. Brad Henry. The group of about 100 has been meeting weekly to examine ways to trim costs.

Several groups making up the Oklahoma Education Coalition have called for a temporary 1-cent sales tax for education, but Garrett has not embraced that suggestion.

Garrett has proposed working with American Indian tribes to get them to give to the state some of the revenues they collect for issuing vehicle tags. She said only the Cherokees are giving back 38 percent of the tag fees they collect.

``I am writing a letter to other tribes'' and asking them to return portions of their tag fees, she said.

Garrett said she also has had discussions with tribal leaders about their gaming revenues.

``I think it would be very appropriate (for the tribes) to share in that revenue _ to give back for the education of our children.''

When she announced forming the task force, she said the governor and the Legislature need to ``inventory the assets of the state, cut our losses and stick to the top priorities of education, health, safety and transportation. I don't know how we can afford much beyond that.''

Referring to the Corrections Department, Garrett said its budget has increased as a share of the overall budget during the past several years.

``Seventy percent of the males at Lexington (prison) are there for either drugs, hot checks or white collar crime,'' while education's share of the budget has declined, she said.
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