Overspending or loss of funding? That issue seems to be at the crux of what’s keeping the Luther School Board from making efficient work of budget cuts that are needed to help keep the district’s doors open next school year.
At least two board members are approaching the dilemma – overspending or loss of funding – differently. Board President Matt Mohr wants his board to set aside the questions about spending to deal with the crisis at hand, while new board member Steve Broudy is bringing the issue to the forefront.
Broudy and Board Member Charles DeFuria have called for a proposed executive session to discuss the employment of the superintendent at the Monday, April 11 regular meeting. The board voted to extend the contract of Dr. Sheldon Buxton, Luther’s superintendent for the last three years, after a long executive session back at January’s meeting. That was before Broudy was elected to the board.
“I told Charles I would co-sponsor the call for the executive session. I really think we are wasting valuable time away from other issues and we need to put this issue to bed and move forward on the budget,” said Broudy.
At least one more board member needs to agree to have the closed-door meeting to take up the superintendent’s employment.
Board President Matt Mohr also agrees the board is stalled by the allegations of overspending, but says the district is in a crisis, just like most every other school district in the state.
“I don’t think its well understood in this district, the statewide budget problems. They think this is about spending. Where have we overspent? Where? Is it furniture, because we can’t take the furniture back,” he said during an interview last Thursday.
“Im truly in the dark. What specifically did we overspend on?” asked Mohr.
Meantime, many of the state’s school districts face severe money loss due to the failure of state leaders to diversity the state’s economy away from dependence on the energy sector. That has caused the state’s coffers to dwindle and all state services to suffer. Most Oklahomans are well-aware of the downturn in oil and gas – through massive layoffs in offices and in the field, as well low gas prices at the pump. Nearby Davenport Schools recently voted to convert to a four-day school week (Lincoln County News); and according to Wellston Public School’s website, it’s School Board recently approved its own Reduction in Force Policy.
Dr. Buxton has said the district must return to spending levels not seen since 2011. By now, district officials had expected enrollment to grow to over 1,000 students (to help the district get off of a state-aid formula). The district had 888 students back on the official count day in October. However, an unknown number of students have left the district this year to homeschool or transfer. And then the state budget crisis happened.
Mohr acknowledges over the last three years, the school district grew programs such as fabrication and design, art and history – and hired more teachers and staff – when the district was growing and money was flowing. Now, most of those programs are on the chopping block.
“Those teachers are my friends. It’s not easy. Are you going to cut something that’s been there for 40 years, and entrenched in the district? You are not going to cut transportation. You’re not gong to cut football. You’re not going to cut FFA. So you start looking around. The miserable thing is no one is talking about the other certified staff to be cut. What does that look like? It’ll be higher student teacher ratios in the elementary but we are only talking about three programs instead of the big picture,” said Mohr.
“I don’t know any parent that wants their fourth grade class at 28 students,” he said.
Broudy is also concerned about the teachers and the quality of education that will not cost the district any more loss of students.
“The bottom line is if we have no teachers, we have no school. The teachers are there to teach our children, and everyone else is there to support the teachers,” said Broudy who has asked whether the district could hold off on hiring another administrator, a high school principal, until better money times come around.
None of the budget issues will be voted upon at Monday’s meeting, although it’s likely to be the elephant in the room. The board will conduct it’s regular business, including consideration of hiring a new high school principal, approving some student fund-raisers for next year and to pay some bills with what money is left in the district’s accounts. A special meeting will be held later in April to take up the budgets cuts left from last month’s special meeting.
The agenda does call for public comments. Mohr said most people don’t understand the limitations of the Open Meetings Law that prevent board members from engaging during public comments.
“After the last meeting, we heard ‘you’re just unapproachable. and you cant get a hold of them,'” said Mohr.
“Understand that before last year, no names or phones or emails were published. Now we do that, and I think it’s leftover as a crutch just to complain without really trying to communicate. Hopefully it’ll turn around.” He says he gets about ten emails after a board meeting.
“I think more people pay attention to social media than they truly pay attention during a board meeting. I really do. I think some of them show up in staunch opposition and some show up to see the circus, for the entertainment,” said Mohr.
Broudy says he understands the frustration, and remembers being frustrated when he was in the audience before his election to the board.
“We need to have the community’s trust restored in the board and the superintendent,” said Broudy.