Much has changed for Altus Public Schools in the last two decades according to the Office of Accountability’s District Profile Report. Though enrollment and state funding have seen negative impacts, graduation rates have climbed to an impressive high and the district has managed to maintain an even level of student GPAs and ACT scores. It has even been able to increase participation in gifted and talented programs.
To begin, student enrollment for the district has decreased by 25 percent, or approximately 1,223 students, over a 20 year period.
The decline in regular classroom teachers has outpaced this decline somewhat by almost 27 percent while the number of administrators has seen almost no decrease.
Though the average salary with fringe benefits of these regular classroom teachers has seen a jump of $18,282 in the past 20 years, only $2,066 of it has occurred within the last decade. This is a sharp contrast to average administrative salaries which have outpaced the teacher pay increase by 14 percent while seeing a smaller administrator to teacher ratio.
This is a point of concern for Altus Public Schools Superintendent Roger Hill.
“I believe that public education is underfunded, and the state needs to step up to the plate to fund public education in terms of classroom education, teacher’s salaries and programs,” Hill said. “But administrative salaries need to be addressed at a state wide level. It’s difficult defend the need for an increase in teacher salaries when administrative salaries have outpaced them.”
The demographics of these students has changed drastically as well. The Hispanic student population has seen its numbers grow by 20 percent with a corresponding decrease in the percentage of Caucasian and African American students.
While the average household income for Jackson County has grown by 138 percent from $21,985 to $52,346, the eligibility for the free and reduced lunch program among students has jumped up 20.5 percent. It is also important to note that the current income number is still well below the state average of $63,890, which could factor into the continuing rise of eligibility.
The level of actual funding has increased per student over the last two decades, but less of that funding is going toward student instruction, which has seen its share drop 6.7 percent.
“To me that’s a very important statistic,” Hill said. “First of all, I would say that is a statistic that I’m not very proud of to see the decrease from 62 percent in 1997 to 55.4 percent in 2016. Obviously our goal is to provide as much of our funds towards classroom instruction as we can. We have seen an increase in operating expenses such as utilities, fuel, and maintenance costs, and when funds are limited or being reduced it impacts the amount of money that goes towards classroom instruction.”
The high school has also seen the number of units offered dropped in the subject areas of science, math and non-English languages, though it has seen higher numbers in language arts, fine arts and social studies.
Hill attributes that change to the school’s financial state.
“That is a reflection of downsizing in staff even with a shrinking budget and having to accommodate those issues with the resources we have available. We’d like to offer more courses, but school finances restrict us from doing so.”
Despite these challenges, the performance measures of the district are strong and Hill is proud of the students and teachers in the district for their efforts in keeping it that way. The graduation rate has increased to 98.7 percent, up from 72.7 percent 20 years ago. The GPA and ACT scores remain steady at 3.0 and 21.3, respectively.
Hill said, “I think that our staff has stepped up to the plate and continues to serve our students the best that they can. The school performance measures such as graduation rate and ACT scores are indicators that our staff and students are performing at a high level.”
Reach Matt Moran at 580-482-1221, ext. 2071.