Changes On The Horizon For Tulsa Public Schools

Saturday, March 17th 2007, 4:28 pm
By: News On 6

He came in with big plans and bigger expectations, now the head of Tulsa Public Schools is unveiling his plan for the future. Doctor Michael Zolkoski says there’s a lack of leadership and teamwork, and that TPS isn’t ready to be an award-winning district. The News On 6’s Joshua Brakhage reports Zolkoski plans to shut down schools and open new ones, redraw boundaries and eliminate more than 100 positions.

Tulsa's superintendent says he doesn't want TPS to see the same struggles other districts like Catoosa are facing. Schools are blaming state-mandated pay raises for breaking their bottom line, forcing them to lay off teachers. That's why Dr. Michael Zolkoski is eliminating 104 jobs with the district, while creating 45 more.

"Now we're evaluating positions, but we have plenty of jobs, no one's going to lose their job,” said Dr. Zolkoski. “They may have a new job, but they won't lose their job."

He says "streamlining" will come with a savings of more than $3.5 million per year, mostly because new positions won't come with premium pay.

"Whether it is only a thousand dollars, it's still money and we're concerned about those kinds of things of course," said Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association Vice President Denzel Kesterson.

While the teacher's union worries about salaries, school board members questioned if the plan slighted special education. Zolkoski say the cuts put priority on classrooms instead of at the district office.

Another part of his plan is splitting the state's largest district into smaller districts, headed up by area superintendents that look over two high schools, a few middle schools, and a handful of elementary schools. They'll oversee a cluster program, where students will follow a set path from Kindergarten to graduation. To make that happen, the district will have to realign and redraw boundary lines, moving about 1,500 students. They'll also reopen a school in January as Jones Elementary to take some pressure off other crowded campuses.

"Plus, we're a district of choice, so they have the option to transfer out of there if they so desire,” Zolkoski said. “But 80% of our students really stay within their clusters.”
Zolkoski’s plan would also shut down one of the districts worst-performing schools, Monroe, and consolidate it with Gilcrease. The superintendent is also talking about launching four magnet programs, a culinary school at Hale, broadcasting at Webster, highlighting fine arts at Central, and reemphasizing science and technology at McClain, especially in aerospace. Those four high schools are the smallest in the district and many students are transferring out. Zolkoski hopes this will start attracting some of those students they've lost.