Uncertain Funding From Oklahoma Legislature Worries Tulsa Public Schools

Monday, June 11th 2012, 6:48 pm
By: Emory Bryan

Oklahoma has cut almost three-quarters of a million dollars from reading programs at Tulsa Public Schools.

The numbers are trickling in from the budget that was put together in the final days of the legislature.

No one at Tulsa Public Schools crunches the numbers more than Patricia Williams.

She's the chief financial officer, who deals with an increasingly chaotic budget because of the uncertain supply of funding from state government.

"It's been extremely difficult the last four years, and the people who have felt that the most is our employees because of the insecurity and the uncertainty they have over their jobs," Williams said.

This year, it reached the point that parents were raising money to maintain the staff at individual schools.

The superintendent is out soliciting donations to pay teacher salaries.

And now -- what was billed as a flat budget -- turns out to be a cut.

TPS says the state budget cut Tulsa's budget in what's called the "activity fund" account.

Out of $23 million -- the cut is $688,000.

That's going to impact how schools teach children to read, especially children who are behind.

It put TPS in a tough spot because the cut is just to the budget, not in what the state requires the district to do.

"We use that money to pay for tutors and other supports for those students, so by eliminating that funding, of course, the law is still on the book," Williams said. "So we're required to continue that service, it's just that the money is being taken away."

Two months ago, parents were still hoping to convince the legislature to put more money into education.

That didn't happen. And along with cuts to specific programs, the biggest portion of the education budget is flat.

"Essentially the dollars are flat, so that means any increase in costs going up, textbooks and utilities, any of those things that school districts have to pay for, we're having to pay for with a flat budget," Williams said.

School districts are accustomed to last-minute adjustments, even when they involves large amounts of money.

The state only set the budget two weeks ago. TPS just got the numbers last week, and now it has to figure all this out by July 1 when the new budget starts.