Thursday’s announcement by state schools superintendent Joy Hofmeister that public school funding will suffer this year has left area administrators with pressing questions: How will their districts overcome the statewide cuts? And at what cost?
Time will tell.
All state departments are having to cut budgets to deal with an anticipated $900 million or so overall budget shortfall. The state board of education will cut $46.7 million from pre-K through 12th-grade public education, effective immediately.  
That wasn’t a shock so much as a disappointment for area schools, given the state’s well-reported revenue failure.
“It’s going to be the biggest fiscal challenge since the years following the 2008 recession,” state Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger wrote.
Some departments, including public education, were required to cut funding by at least 3 percent.
“There is no denying that this cut poses serious challenges for school districts during a time in which every dollar already is precious,” state Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister told The Ardmoreite by email. “Not all districts will be affected the same way. But the State Board of Education and Oklahoma State Department of Education have addressed the required cuts as fairly and judiciously as possible, while attempting to minimize student impact.”

Cuts here and there
Before wielding the knife, the department opted to move $4.6 million from the Public School Activities fund to cushion the blow somewhat.
Subsequently, using the State Aid Funding Formula, the department cut $3.9 million from the Public School Activities fund; at least 3 percent from programs such as alternative education, Teach for America, the early childhood initiative, Sooner Start and the Oklahoma Arts Institute, reducing the $46.7 million bottom-line cuts to $25 million less for Oklahoma’s more than 550 school districts.
Some of the remainder will cost advanced-placement teacher training and test fee assistance (55 percent reduction of budget), staff development for schools (a 50 percent cut) and school lunch matching funds (30 percent), according to the state schools department, along with all funds being eliminated from science, technology, engineering and math ­— known as STEM — curricula.
All of that has left area schools scrambling.
“These additional cuts will be devastating, not only this year, but for future school years as well,” Plainview Public Schools Superintendent Karl Stricker said.
And it’s not just the cuts themselves that are a cause of worry.
“(Our budget’s reliance on state aid) fluctuates from year to year depending on collections,” Dickson Public School Superintendent Larry Case said. “Because that is what your state aid is based on yearly, but currently it is approximately a third of our budget. When and if other collections go down in the future, like gross production, which is down tremendously, we will depend more on state aid, so that is the future concern, that the state aid won’t be there because the state budget is down.  Just a cycle where some schools can get the double whammy with state aid and collections both down.
“This hits the schools the hardest that have a high dependency on state aid, while others that aren’t relying on it heavily will not be affected much at all.”

Cutting costs
With that double whammy, area schools are embracing frugality.
“Our plan is to be as frugal as possible,” Lone Grove Public Schools Superintendent Meri Jayne Miller said. “If it’s not a necessity, we aren’t buying it. We knew cuts were coming, so we’ve made provisions to prepare for what lies ahead even after this round of cuts.
“Creativity while planning our budget is key for the present and future. There are many ways we can curtail spending before making major cuts, such as staffing. A large part of our funding comes from state funding.  At this time, we don’t feel that we will have to dip into our carry-over to get through our school year.  As far as making up for the loss, we just have to tighten our belts and step up to the challenge of managing our budget with the revenue we have.”
Schools’ carry-over funds only go so far.
“Basically, schools have a carry forward that you don’t like to tap because emergency costs can and do come up and districts like to maintain as much of a  positive balance as possible year to year, “Case said. “Also, school districts need this to help to get through the first few months of a new school year.
“We are tightening our belts and absorbing where we can for the rest of the year, but my main concern is what the cuts will be for next year.  This will effect not only state aid funds for fiscal year 2017, but because of the downturn in our economy, it is going to hurt all collections.  Oklahoma has been through this before, I just hope that it turns around quickly.”
January school board meetings, beginning Monday evening, will be the first since the latest budget cuts were approved as well as since last month’s repeal of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.