As a special legislative session meant to balance Oklahoma’s 2018 state budget looms, area school districts are hoping for the best and expecting the worst.
After years of cuts, public education funding for 2018 emerged unscathed after months of debate in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. But that could easily change  now that a state tax on cigarettes has been declared unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court and the state faces another possible budget shortfall.
Madill superintendent Jon Tuck said he’s worried more cuts could be on the way and doesn’t see the situation improving any time soon, given Oklahoma’s recent history of public school funding.
“I just think the expectations are pretty low,” Tuck said. “This is a problem we could have fixed many times over. I don’t have a great deal of hope. I think we’re all worried, it’s a very unstable revenue stream right now. We tend to put our eggs in the same basket and we don’t put anything in place.”
Tuck cited the historically-low teacher pay rates in Oklahoma as one symptom of a deeper, long-lived issue.   
“I don’t think we’re making
decisions at the state level that are good for the kids,” Tuck said. “That much is clear. Obviously we don’t care or we wouldn’t be 50th in the country in teacher pay. I don’t know that any superintendent is comfortable right now.”  
  Lone Grove superintendent Meri Jayne Miller said she’s looking ahead with similar caution.
“We’ve always been told, when we get close to the November-December timeframe, to be prepared,” Miller said. “School budgets have taken a tremendous loss.”
She said at the end of the regular session, the outlook was slightly brighter, but school administrations in Oklahoma are used to staying one step ahead.
“You can never be in a comfort zone,” Miller said. “If you are, you’re liable to come up short. When we base it on revenue we’re sure we’ll receive, what we can do is control our expenditures in case of a shortfall come second semester.”
Miller said Lone Grove Schools have made personnel cuts over the last five years or so. If more cuts are made, more programs and people would be in jeopardy. In that event, the school would divide remaining duties among the remaining teachers and staff as best it can, but no school system can do so forever.
“With less teachers and less support, we absorb as much as we can and get creative,” Miller said. “We don’t like to do it, but educators are pretty resilient.”