TPS Superintendent Donates $25K Bonus To District

Tuesday, May 24th 2016, 10:56 pm
By: Tess Maune

State leaders said they've plugged most of the $1.3 billion budget hole, but they're going into debt to do it - borrowing more than $300 million.

One of the biggest concerns was a proposed 25 percent cut to Medicaid providers. Health care experts said that would have forced hospitals and nursing homes across the state to close their doors.

Lawmakers said the deal spares Medicaid, and, they said DHS will actually get more money in next year's budget than this past year, but other state agencies will lose $360 million.

5/24/2016 Related Story: Seven Takeaways From Tuesday's Budget Deal

State lawmakers still have to approve the plan. They have until Friday to decide.

The budget deal means there won’t be additional funding cuts for Oklahoma public schools to start the new school year, but that’s after the largest percentage cuts in the nation over the past eight years.

Schools districts were preparing for five to eight percent cuts for next year. If the budget plan passes, there will be no more cuts to education.

State School Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said this budget represents a best-case scenario as we plan for the next school year.

5/24/2016 Related Story: Oklahoma Governor, Lawmakers Reach Budget Agreement

With little time left, lawmakers have come up with a budget plan - that has caught the attention of school districts statewide, including Tulsa, which was planning to cut $13.5 million from its budget next school year.

But the proposed budget released Tuesday says there will be no cuts to public school funding next year, something TPS Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist was pleased to hear.

“Certainly some encouraging messages, at least for education pre-K-12,” she said.

A news release from the governor's office said freeing up revenues through tax reform, structural budget changes and cuts elsewhere in government will maintain current funding levels.

But the deep cuts last year have left lasting scars. 

Budgets are still tight for many districts, and teachers will lose jobs because schools still won't have money to keep them employed due to the last round of cuts.

The Oklahoma State School Boards Association executive director, Shawn Hime, said he's grateful lawmakers drafted a budget that will shield public schools from additional cuts, but added, “The reality is, even with this agreement, schools will continue struggling with a severe teacher shortage, growing class sizes and shrinking educational opportunities for students."

Tulsa's Superintendent said change is a must, which is why she is donating her $25,000 bonus to the Foundation for Tulsa Schools.

“I feel like this is sort of my small contribution to that effort,” Gist said. “It's gonna require all of us stepping up and making our voices heard and making sure that changes are gonna happen for teachers in Oklahoma.”

The proposal must be approved by the Senate and House of Representatives. Lawmakers expect it to be on the governor's desk Friday - which is the last day of legislative session.