Gist screen grab

A screen grab from Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist's video to faculty and staff late Wednesday.


Tulsa Public Schools is considering shortening the school week to four days and eliminating transportation for everyone except special education students as possible scenarios to deal with anticipated budget cuts next year.

Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist sent employees an email Wednesday evening laying out these and other options as possible cuts to the district’s budget next year.

In her email, obtained by the Tulsa World late Wednesday night, Gist says the cuts for next school year likely will be 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,” she said in the email, sent out around 7 p.m.

Gist shared a few scenarios for next year, emphasizing that they were simply to show the magnitude of the situation.

“These are NOT decisions or even options at this point,” she wrote. “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.”

Below are some of the scenarios Gist listed:

Central office: A 5 percent reduction in administrative staffing would yield a savings of about $820,000. A 15 percent reduction could net a savings of about $2.4 million.

“These reductions would result in fewer, or perhaps in some cases slower, essential services provided to our schools, students, teachers, and families,” Gist said.

Shorter school week: Gist said she and her team are exploring a four-day school week as a possible scenario. However, she said this scenario would save only $1.4 million.

“Of course, this would result in our students having an additional day each week away from school,” she wrote. “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: Gist said the district could also consider reducing or eliminating programs such as athletics and fine arts.

“Even a total elimination of athletics would only provide $2.3 million,” she said. “Elimination of fine arts would mean $8.1 million in savings.”

But Gist said that “these are unfathomable considerations.”

Increased class sizes: Gist called this a “terrible option to consider” but explained that an increase of just one student across the board could provide $2.6 million in savings. Then she added, “In some cases, we might have to consider larger increases” and said an increase of four students would create $9.6 million in savings.

Transportation: Gist said Tulsa Public Schools “may have to consider reducing or eliminating transportation,” noting that limiting transportation services to only special education students, for whom transportation is required, would net the district about $8 million per year.

Campus security: The superintendent said that “arguably, the need for campus security has never been higher” but that the elimination of the campus police and security services would save $3.5 million.


Gist's letter

From: "Gist, Deborah" <gistde@tulsaschools.org>

Date: February 24, 2016 at 6:58:19 PM CST

To: TPS Employees

Subject: TPS team member update on the state revenue shortfall

Hi team, 

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. 

Transportation

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. 

Best,

Deborah 

Deborah A. Gist | Superintendent

Tulsa Public Schools

3027 S. New Haven Ave, Room 200, Tulsa, OK 74114

Nour Habib 918-581-8369

nour.habib@tulsaworld.com

Andrea Eger 918-581-8470

andrea.eger@tulsaworld.com

Staff Writer

Andrea is a projects reporter, examining key education topics and other local issues. Since joining the Tulsa World in 1999, she has been a three-time winner of Oklahoma’s top award for investigative reporting by an individual. Phone: 918-581-8470

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