TPS: Every Student May Be Affected By Shuttered Tulsa Schools

Saturday, April 16th 2011, 4:27 pm
By: News On 6

Emily Baucum, News On 6

TULSA, Oklahoma -- The historic overhaul at Tulsa Public Schools will affect every student in the district.

In a special meeting Saturday the school board hammered home to families: even if your neighborhood school isn't on the closure list, you will be affected.

The big wildcard in the Project Schoolhouse proposals: transfer students. Federal law gives families some wiggle room when choosing a school.

Now, all 42,000 students could be re-shuffled as the district tackles how to reassign transfer students.

The federal law "No Child Left Behind" allows students to leave under performing neighborhood schools -- and districts have to pay for it.

That's one reason about 30 percent of TPS students transferred to other schools within the district.

"We have to address the inequity among schools and the course offerings at TPS," said Brian Hunt, Tulsa School Board President:

Project Schoolhouse aims to do that. It will eliminate the 10,000 empty seats in neighborhood schools. Most families are focused on school closures, but board members worry the community is not aware the boundaries for schools that stay open could change.

"I almost see this as the correction that needs to happen," said TPS Superintendent Dr. Keith Ballard.

In the elementary school population, depending on the exact number of school closures, up to 850 transfers will go back to their neighborhood school.

"People need to understand that everybody could change to some extent. This has the potential to affect every student in the district," said TPS board member Anna America.

Patrick Henry Elementary's capacity is 510 students. Only 479 are currently enrolled. That changes if Phillips Elementary closes.

"If I live in that feeder area I get a seat. So what if there are some seats left? What will be the next priority?" Ballard said.

So, the new enrollment would be 646. The numbers are black and white: the new Patrick Henry would be 136 students over capacity. The district would be forced to deal with 201 transfer students, and that's the gray area.

"Which could result in some boundary changes, which could result in a bit of a chain reaction," said Larry Smith, TPS Pupil Accounting.

There are many unanswered questions. Do current transfers need to re-apply? And will transfers with just one year left at a school get to finish there?

"Transfers are an issue. At the bottom of all the transfer discussion, there will be a change," Ballard said.

A hefty homework assignment -- and the board has until May 2, 2011 to complete it and turn it into the families who will be affected.

The board just found out the state legislature won't shell out more than a million dollars to pay for teacher benefits. Add that to the proposed budget cuts, and Tulsa schools have about $5 million less to work with than last year.

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