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State leaders must act now to address revenue shortfall

Parents,

Many of you are likely aware of the state’s revenue failure, which resulted in a mid-year reduction of $46.7 million for public education. What you may not realize is legislators have options to fulfill their obligations and close the gap.

Funding cuts equate to a loss of nearly $950,000 this fiscal year in Norman Public Schools alone. Additional reductions will occur when a shortfall is declared for the Education Reform Revolving Fund, which we expect to be an additional cut of $400,000 or more. It’s worth mentioning that even before the budget cuts, our district was already forced to operate with about $5 million less per year than we did in 2009 while serving more than 2,000 additional students.

Mid-year budget cuts should be unacceptable. With four months left in the school year, we have obligations that must be fulfilled. And, while state law mandates that several specific programs are offered to students, districts will be legally required to offer programs without being provided the funding to do so.

The good news is legislators can meet their current financial obligations by tapping into the Rainy Day Fund, which was designed to carry state operations forward in the event of a revenue failure. It’s not just raining in Oklahoma; it’s pouring. Now is the time for our legislators to demonstrate their leadership and act immediately to close the gap, as it is much easier to plan for future shortfalls rather than receive mid-year reductions.

Longer-term, legislators need to know their constituents expect them to fulfill their promises and minimize negative impacts on education. One idea to address funding challenges is President Boren’s penny sales tax. This bold initiative would provide a sustainable revenue source that could go a long way in protecting and enhancing critical services for students.

In Norman, we have demonstrated fiscally sound and prudent financial practices. Because we anticipated funding cuts, we focused on growing our fund balance. In the event legislators choose not to fulfill their obligations, these funds will allow us to protect student services and retain our teachers for the remainder of the school year. However, if we are forced to tap into our limited reserves now we will not be in a position to absorb further allocation reductions next year. 

The future of our students is too important to minimize with continued funding reductions. We encourage you to advocate for education and make your voice heard to close the funding gap this year.

Our state’s leaders must employ immediate solutions, demonstrate vision and provide adequate resources for the next generation of Oklahoman. Our teachers, administrators and staff do this every day. Now is the time for legislators to step up and join us.

 

Sincerely,

Dr. Joseph Siano
Superintendent, Norman Public Schools