Tulsa Public Schools Facing Uncertain Future

Monday, May 4th 2009, 9:53 pm
By: News On 6

By Ashli Sims, The News On 6

TULSA, OK -- The state is facing a $600 million budget shortfall.  Governor Brad Henry wants to spare education from the budget ax, but schools are already preparing for the worst.  State dollars may come up short.  So, Tulsa Public Schools' leaders are considering leaner budgets and hoping federal stimulus money may make up the difference.

"It's almost like what my superintendent calls a tale of two budgets," said TPS CFO Trish Williams.

You could say the infusion of federal stimulus money for Oklahoma schools was the best of times.  And, a looming $600 million state budget shortfall was the worst of times.

"It's just a rather volatile situation, where we could be facing reductions or not. Things could be better than we expect or they can be a little worse than we expect," said TPS CFO Trish Williams.

The last time the state was short hundreds of millions of dollars, the situation hit Oklahoma schools hard.  Back in 2002, districts had to slash budgets mid-year.  TPS cut bus routes and furloughed some workers.  And, it prompted Tulsa philanthropist Henry Zarrow to issue a million dollar challenge to benefit TPS.

So far, district leaders aren't expecting to take such drastic measures this time around.  They're hoping millions in federal stimulus money could help blunt the state budget ax.

"Those funds will hopefully help offset and fill that budget gap we're looking at for next year," said TPS CFO Trish Williams.

But, Williams and the district's superintendent aren't just relying on hope.  They're asking all department heads for leaner budgets.

School leaders aim to insulate the classroom.  But, administrators from finance to transportation are being asked to prepare back up plans that include 5% and 10% cuts just in case.

"But, really until the budget negotiations are complete and all of those allocations have been made we won't know where we're going to wind up," said TPS CFO Trish Williams.

Despite the somewhat gloomy outlook, Trish Williams says Oklahoma is in better shape than a lot of other states.