State Announces School Budget Breakthrough

Monday, March 19th 2007, 8:09 pm
By: News On 6

State lawmakers announced a bipartisan budget breakthrough Monday. The budget bill includes nearly $7 billion for next year, millions in tax cuts, and much-needed supplementary funds for education. All last week we heard lawmakers weren't fully funding the $3,000 teacher pay raises. Monday, lawmakers approved a deal to give schools $60 million to help make up the difference, but News On 6 education reporter Ashli Sims reports it might not help a local school in deep financial trouble.

They stood shoulder to shoulder, from both sides of the aisle, seeming pretty pleased with themselves.

"It is a very proud fact for us as legislative leaders to be able to say for the first time we've met the April 1st education funding deadline," said Speaker of the House Lance Cargill.

"But I think in this budget agreement there are lots of things that we can all be very, very proud of," said Senator Mike Morgan.

Proud that Oklahoma schools will know how much money they have to spend next year, earlier than ever. And they agreed to fully fund what some were calling an "un-funded" mandate. They've set aside $60 million to go out to schools this year to help cover costs associated with the teachers' pay raises.

"We're a long way from it ever becoming law and we're still a long way from money reaching those school systems but at least there is a proposal on the table," said Representative Danny Morgan.

But will it save jobs in Catoosa? District leaders announced earlier this month they would lay off more than two dozen teachers and support staff. At the time, the superintendent blamed the $500,000 deficit on lawmakers.

"If the legislative body would have taken care of business last year, we wouldn't be in this shape," said Catoosa Superintendent Larry Cole.

A financial consultant hired by the district told the school board last week Catoosa has a $600,000 deficit. He said the writing was on the wall last summer, but the board was given misleading information by the district's former financial director.

We talked with the school board president and he told us supplemental funds would help. But even with those dollars, they probably would still need to cut staff. Even with the extra money and the cuts, it still won't get them out of the hole.

Monday’s budget deal still has to gain the approval of the governor, who says he was left out of the budget discussions. So, it is still not known when schools will actually start to receive this money.