Editor’s note: State House District 52 Rep. Charles Ortega (R-Altus) was provided an opportunity to respond.
As a 12-year member of the Altus Board of Education, I was both privileged and honored to attend the districtwide end-of-year employee assembly. From the outset through a video that recapped a remarkable year for K-12 to the recognition of long serving faculty and staff,as well as those leaving the system through retirement and resignation, it was a time of reflection and a look at the future for Altus Schools.
Varsity sports produced a state champion football team, a two-time state champion boys’ swim team, a four-time state champion sports shooters’ team and individual state champions in wrestling. The shooting sports team is a somewhat recent varsity activity, but students as young as fifth-grade are participating in shooting competitions.
Additionally, the year’s accomplishments include all state band members, all state choir members, FFA members who earned the State Farmers Degree, and a National Merit Scholar along with a Commended Scholar in the National Merit Scholarship program. Two elementary schools were recognized by Governor Mary Fallin as “High Performing Schools.”
And that is not all. The Altus High School dance team and students at Altus Junior High raised money for the Southwest Cancer Center to specifically aid in breast cancer research. Teachers participate in summer continuing education programs such as STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) as well as Literacy First.
Success at every level (sports, music, academics, etc.) is obviously due to a dedicated instructional staff and support personnel. Our schools are up to the educational challenges, perhaps none more so than in the area of children with special needs. I recognize and congratulate these sometimes unsung heroes who work in this very necessary and critical area of education.
After outstanding programs and activities were recognized, it was time to honor staff leaving the school system through retirements and resignations. Good luck to each of these. The sad caveat is these departing individuals will not be replaced due to a lack of funds resulting from massive budget cuts that have left school districts reeling. While we will save an estimated $1.2 million in payroll expenses, class sizes will be much larger most often with fewer teacher aides and other support staff. Hopefully, volunteers will step up to the plate. Also, it is unfortunate those $1.2 million will no longer circulate in the local economies, a huge loss for those businesses that provide goods and services.
The Oklahoma constitution requires our state provide public school education for all citizens. Our founders recognized and preached that education was the path out of poverty. I believe there is a moral obligation as well. Quality public education must be available to all students and not just a privileged few. We in the Altus Public Schools and throughout school districts in Southwest Oklahoma strive to do just that.
John N. Thomas