As the end of another school year draws to an end, it can be stated, as a matter of fact, that hard work does pay off. The culmination of the school year was celebrated by students and faculty alike, with a successful graduation ceremony and award winners at the Accent on Excellence program. Although the students are out for the time being, there is much work to be done. The 2017-18 school year is just over the horizon. The transition of attention from school-is-in-session to multifaceted Summer projects comprises a delicate balance of timeline management and smart budget planning. The success of each is dependent on what matters, everything matters.
A major focus is continually on school facility upgrades, many of which must be completed while no students are on site. A notable project on the list will be to complete the new cafeteria at Cherokee Elementary. Preparation and work on the cafeteria began over 2 years ago and will complete the construction projects from the 2009 bond issue. Other Summer projects will include: flooring repairs throughout the District, updates to Athletic facilities, and remodeling of office space. Regular maintenance and upgrades to our infrastructure has proven to be a source of savings to our District.
This past school year was fraught once again, with budget woes. Another Summer project will be time devoted to the development of the operating budget for next school year. The lack of a budget agreement in the Oklahoma Legislature has left school districts in the dark about what the revenue budget will look like for next school year. The impact to Tahlequah Public Schools is nearly a $500,000 reduction in State Aid funding so far this year. TPS also did not receive funding for textbooks at $175,000.00 (approx.), while other line item categories received cuts of more than 50% or were completely eliminated. The projected impact on funding for the 2017-18 school year is an estimated net reduction of $74 per student, or roughly 7-10% of the general budget.
Dealing with a consistent downward trend in State funding has become the standard operating procedure for public schools in Oklahoma. As of April 30, the General Revenue Fund is 4.4% below the estimated collections for the year. School Districts receive funding from a number of sources: income tax (personal and corporate), gross production tax, sales tax, motor vehicle tax, cigarette tax, tribal gaming/horse tracks, and others. When the collections in each of these categories are consistently down by percentage points, this ultimately equates to reductions to schools’ revenue in millions of dollars. A recent comment from Preston Doerflinger, Oklahoma Secretary of Finance “If the fourth quarter declines more than expected, agencies should be prepared for deeper cuts. It is absolutely necessary that the Legislature take a serious look at ways to raise recurring revenue…” The cuts have gone on for some time now and it is important to note that students who were in 1st grade when the cuts began are now high school freshmen. At this time, the Legislature has yet to reach a budget deal that would establish a funding baseline for the 2017-18 school year.
It is a team effort to develop, manage, monitor and continuously adjust the skinny operating budget. Despite the mounting challenges, it will be our priority to operate efficiently and effectively in a rapidly changing environment to ensure student success.