Supt. Gist outlines ideas for TPS budget cuts

Posted at 7:31 AM, Feb 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-25 14:45:57-05

TULSA - State budget cuts are set to make an impact at Tulsa Public Schools prompting the district to adjust.

Superintendent Deborah Gist sent an email this week to TPS employees detailing the district's financial situation. She anticipates the impact of the cuts to the district to be between $7 million and $20 million.

Among the ideas - which Gist reiterates are only possibilities and that no decisions have been made - are:

  • Reduction in administrative staff - Depending on the amount of cuts, the district could save up to $2.4 million.
  • Four-day school week - This could generate $1.4 million in savings, but Gist points out the challenge this would create for parents, and its result in students being out of the classroom an additional day each week.
  • Program reductions - Eliminating athletics would save $2.6 million. Eliminating fine arts would save $8.1 million.
  • Increase class sizes - Gist says this is a "terrible option to consider," however increasing each class by four students would save the district $9.6 million.
  • Transportation reductions - Eliminating transportation of students, excluding special education students, would net $8 million in savings. Gist points out the hardship this would create for parents, and the reduction would mean an increase in students' absences.
  • Campus security elimination - This would save $3.5 million, but Gist argues "the need for campus security has never been higher."

POLL: Which ideas do you support for Tulsa Public School to implement following state budget cuts?

She also posted a video on YouTube explaining the scenarios, watch it in the player below.

This is the email Supt. Gist sent to district employees:

I write to you after spending much of the day in our schools. Once again, I am impressed, inspired, excited and grateful. That makes it exponentially harder for me to share the news I'm bringing about our financial situation. I wanted to reach out to you directly, via this email and video, so that you hear this news from me rather than through the media. I know that doesn't make the overall problem any better, but I thought that was important.

Over the last few weeks, I've worked with the TPS district leadership team to carefully review the potential impact of state budget reductions and to determine our best--or perhaps I should say "least bad"--next steps. We have two budgets to consider. First, we need to manage the mid-year state budget cuts for our current school year. We have a plan for that and are working with the board. These cuts, which should not be directly felt by those of you in our schools, will be reflected in a budget amendment to go before the Board of Education in March.

Second, we have a projected state deficit and expected cuts for next year, the 2016-2017 school year. These will be much more significant based on our state's revenue shortfall. A 15.9% reduction is expected statewide although we don't know for sure how state leaders will manage it. We are doing everything we can to minimize the impact these reductions will have for our students, classrooms, and teachers. Right now, we are anticipating that the 2016-2017 district budget cuts will be anywhere between $7 million and $20 million. Therefore and unfortunately, it is unlikely that we can protect our students and teachers from feeling the effects directly next year.

We are now faced with making extremely difficult decisions about the future of our district. In order to help illustrate the magnitude of this challenge and the kinds of difficult decisions we have before us, I wanted to share a few scenarios. These are NOT decisions or even options at this point. Rather, I'm trying to give you a sense of what it takes to put together a package of reductions that meet what we may have before us.

Central office

It is so important that you know that we are carefully reviewing administrative staffing, functions and expenditures at the central office and identifying what reductions could be made. If we made a 5% reduction in administrative staffing, we could realize $820,000 in savings. A 15% reduction could realize approximately $2.4 million. Keep in mind that the central office provides many essential services such as payroll and benefits, student enrollment, bond projects and facilities management, IT infrastructure and support, maintenance management, and professional development. These reductions would result in fewer, or perhaps in some cases slower, essential services provided to our schools, students, teachers, and families.

Shorter school week

Some school districts are considering a four day week, and some of you have asked about this as an option. We are exploring this schedule change as one of the possible scenarios for next year. We would protect learning time by lengthening the school day, but we would only save approximately $1.4 million. Of course, this would result in our students having an additional day each week away from school. It also means that parents would need to make accommodations for a full day of child-care, which could be extremely challenging for them. It would also mean that site and classroom schedules would need comprehensive revisions.

Program reductions

We could consider reducing or eliminating important programs like athletics or fine arts. Even a total elimination of athletics would only provide $2.3 million. Elimination of fine arts would mean $8.1 million in savings. These are unfathomable considerations. We know that the arts and athletics are extremely important avenues of opportunity for our students. We know that they help to educate the whole child, ensuring that our graduates are well-rounded young adults. In addition, school schedules are built using these classes as a way to provide planning time for our teachers.

Increased class sizes

We are analyzing the savings that could result from increased class sizes. For example, an increase of one student could provide $2.6 million in savings. In some cases, we might have to consider larger increases. To give you a sense of what that would mean, an increase of four students would create $9.6 million in savings. We already know that our current classes are too large, so any increase is a terrible option to consider. Keep in mind that due to both educator attrition and our strong hiring numbers for this year, larger class sizes could mean a decrease in the number of new teachers hired into TPS next year.


We may have to consider reducing or eliminating transportation of students in the district. For example, if we limited transportation services to special education students only, we would save approximately $8 million per year. Of course, it would also mean that more than 7,000 students and their families would need to find alternate transportation to school. For most of our families, that would be a tremendous hardship. It could mean increased absenteeism of our students as well.

Campus security

We are fortunate to have our campus police and campus security available to deal with a wide variety of safety concerns. If we completely eliminated these services, we would save $3.5 million. Of course, safety is a priority for our district. In fact, above everything else, we have to be sure that our students and teachers are safe, and we know that our world has changed. Arguably, the need for campus security has never been higher. I want to reiterate that we have NOT made any decisions. In addition, these are not the only possibilities. What I'm sharing with you is information to consider. We are working hard to identify solutions that allow our district to continue to serve Tulsa students and families well and prepare our children to succeed in college and careers. This afternoon I met with our school leaders, and they are available for site-based staff to share concerns, ideas and questions. Central office staff members can contact their chiefs and executive directors to discuss this message and any questions or concerns. You can also reach out to me directly. I will continue to keep you updated during this challenging time especially as more information becomes available. I want you to be aware of the conversations happening within the district leadership team and Board of Education as we determine how to manage the shortfall.

I know it is a really difficult time to be working in education in our state, and I am so grateful for you! We will get through this painful time together. I made a video to accompany this email, and you can find it here: video message.



RELATED: Oklahoma State Department of Education makes 2015 A-F report cards available for Tulsa, more schools 


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