A Luther School Board of four members approved a 2015-2016 budget at a Special Meeting Thursday night. Even though Superintendent Sheldon Buxton had asked for authorization to spend less money in his proposed budget, the board okayed a budget based on an auditor approved Estimate of Needs.
“Last meeting … perhaps I did a poor job of explaining or we did not have opportunity to ask questions, but we should have in place an approved budget for Luther,” Dr. Buxton said at the beginning of the meeting. The budget item failed at the November 9 meeting. The school district traditionally approves its budget in November each year.
With the budget item failure at the regular meeting, presumably the Special Meeting was called to get an approval so the school could pay its bills. The meeting drew a full crowd with overflow standing in the lobby. No public comments were allowed.
Board Member Ray Stanfield asked, “If this budget is not approved tonight then the faculty and staff will not be able to be paid?”
Buxton answered, “That puts it in a very gray area.”
Board Member Charles DeFuria disagreed contending the board had already given the green light to the Estimate of Needs.
“What’s the point in calling in the board for a special meeting and ask them, ‘I want to spend less,’ HOW are you going to spend less?” he said.
The board rejected the revised budget and approved DeFuria’s motion to accept the Estimate of Needs total operating budget of nearly $6.5 million, made up of the General Fund ($5.6 million), Building Fund ($498,000) and Child Nutrition ($419,000). According to a sheet provided by the board, Buxton’s proposed revision would have saved nearly $50,000.
In seconding DeFuria’s motion, Board Vice President Matt Mohr said, “It blows my mind that you don’t trust the man with money but you want to authorize more for him.”
Board members Stanfield, DeFuria, Anderson and Mohr voted yes. Former Board Chairman Aaron Bachhofer resigned November 10, according to Buxton who said the board will act upon that resignation at the December meeting. (The filing period for Board of Education candidates is December 7 – 9.)
The December meeting is also where the board will tackle more budget woes. In what might be the most dramatic part of the meeting, DeFuria called for the resignation of Buxton’s wife, the Dean of Students, hired in August.
Dr. Patti Buxton was hired as the new Dean for a salary of $65,000, a move that has been controversial to say the least. Her marching orders were to address student discipline. Over the course of this semester, the high school principal has resigned.
Buxton agreed to put the issue of the Dean of Students on the agenda at the December meeting.
“It is no mystery to me that my wife’s position in the high school is not received well. I’m not blind to that … inside the building when she comes to work, I think she can tell that it’s not a welcoming environment … if the position is that volatile, that caustic for the purpose to which it was designed, it’s a pointless position,” he said.
Other budget cuts on the table at the December meeting will be closing school on Mondays; eliminating some purchase orders; converting to OG&E Smart Hours; restricting activity trips during the school day; non-replacement of high school principal and using long-term subs instead of replacing two teachers.
The cuts also include eliminating general fund support for athletics.
Luther Public Schools is not alone in its grim budget projections – as administrators and boards all over the state are crunching numbers. Buxton told the board that his information is that the State of Oklahoma projects a $1.2 billion deficit next year, and that “funding education is not on the front-burner but funding for bridges and highways is.”