Deep cuts in story for schools

Special to the Altus Times

Altus Public Schools projects over a $1.6 million decrease in state revenue for the 2016-2017 school year, according to a press release today.

School officials have been preparing a preliminary budget for the 2016-2017 school year based on the state revenue projections. With the projected decrease of state aid, loss of the state flexible benefit allowance due to reduction in staff, loss of motor vehicle tax revenue, loss of textbook funds and the projected loss of state activity funds — Alternative Education, ACE Technology, Professional Development and Reading Sufficiency Act — Altus schools is projecting a decrease in state revenue for 2016-2017 of $1,659,787.14.

“Anyone that thinks Altus Public Schools is preparing for a flat budget for 2016-17 is grossly mistaken,” said Superintendent Roger Hill in a prepared statement. “The trend continues for our district to work with less and less state funds. The numbers speak for themselves. Very, very challenging times ahead for Altus Public Schools.”

According to the press release, Altus Primary School Principal Cheryl Anderson, like all Altus administrators, is preparing for the precise ways these specific cuts will affect her teachers and most importantly her students. The State of Oklahoma recently passed the new Oklahoma Academic Standards for the state, the objectives that are to be taught at each grade level. She is faced with requiring her teachers to teach new standards with no funding for textbooks or resource materials.

“Our teachers are required to teach to the new Oklahoma academic state standards without access to the research-based materials that would satisfy the demands of teaching to the new standards,” Anderson said in a prepared statement. “Teachers must use research-based material with our students, not just some random computer program or run off worksheet. The state of Oklahoma places very high standards of what teachers can use to teach our children, it even ties back into the teachers’ yearly evaluation(s), but now we are not being funded for these materials.”

“Potential cuts to alternative education — specifically to Bulldog Academy and night school — will significantly impact our district’s ability to educate those at-risk students that are not successful in traditional education settings,” said Altus High School Principal Rita Beisel in a prepared statement on the projected loss of funding to alternative education. “In turn, and unfortunately, I anticipate a higher drop-out rate.”

Bulldog Academy, the Altus Public Schools’ Alternative Education program, graduated 41 students in 2015-16 alone. and Beisel expressed her concern for the loss of funding for remediation programs within the district.

“The potential loss of remediation will significantly impact high school students who choose to get additional support through before- and after-school tutoring,” Beisel said in the prepared statement. “Many of these students may not pass a course without this assistance and most cannot afford private tutoring services.”

According to the press release, in 2010-2011, the total revenue received for Altus Public Schools was $32,504,709. The tentative estimate of needs for the 2016-2017 for Altus schools is $24,370,925. This is a decrease of $8,133,784 from 2010-11 to 2016-17.

“We have cut and cut and cut for many years,” Hill said in a prepared statement. “We are cutting into the meat and potatoes of how we can adequately serve our students.”

As of June 1, 2016, Altus schools has eliminated two administrator positions, 16 teaching positions and 15 support positions for a total projected savings in personnel cost of $1,280,000 compared to 2015-16, the press release said. These positions have been absorbed by the district through attrition. The loss of state revenue means larger class sizes, fewer elective programs and fewer support services across the district.

“Schools in Oklahoma are entering into survival mode by going to four day weeks, larger class sizes, elimination of honors and remedial courses and programs, and reducing support services,” Hill said in the press release. “Is this what Oklahomans expect from our schools? What kind of message are we sending to those people that are graduating from college to become a teacher?”

Special to the Altus Times

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