What does $30 million look like?

January 16, 2017

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What does $30 million look like? It's a big number and is what Oklahoma City Public Schools was forced to navigate because of the shortfall in last year's state budget. In a world where trust in government agencies is at a low point, it can be easy to brush this aside as a trimming of unneeded expenses and a reduction of wasted taxpayer dollars.

What does $800 million look like? As the news of this year's state budget issues continues to unfold, there are many state agencies that provide critical services facing similar concerns about what is ahead. Before the legislative session began, some of our largest state agencies met to present their plans and budgets. All have asked for increases, including the state Department of Education. There are valid reasons for these requests and the legislature is going to have serious challenges in addressing these funding issues.

Whether it is $30 million or $800 million, these cuts and shortfalls have real consequences on real people. In Oklahoma City Public Schools, the cuts that have already been implemented are having an adverse effect now and into the future. More than 200 teaching positions have been cut, meaning the teacher/student ratio has increased in all grades. Larger class sizes mean less attention for our students. This has consequences both academically and emotionally. Our schools and teachers provide support and guidance to our students, many of whom rely on school to be their safe place and look to their teachers to be so much more than educators of core subjects. They are educators of life skills and providers of emotional well-being.

A number of assistant principals and support staff positions have also been cut. That means that school leaders, front office staff, counseling assistants and support in fine arts, athletics and middle school test coordinators are no longer providing services to our students.

On the academic front, new text book adoptions have been delayed, school supply budgets have been cut in half, athletic equipment and uniform purchases have been delayed. Library media budgets have been eliminated. Fine arts budgets have been cut and some elementary schools have been consolidated. This is not the complete list. These are just some of the cuts. The list is long and to assume that this doesn't affect the success of our students and doesn't place an undue burden on our district staff is unrealistic.

What can we do? Our community has never been more important in helping to fill the gap and there are many ways to engage. Support OKCPS teacher projects by helping to fund a project on DonorsChoose.org. Be a volunteer in a classroom. It can be as simple as reading with a child once per week. Help fund a project posted on Partners in Action. Information on both of these initiatives can be found at okckids.com.

And, finally, reach out to your legislators. As we head into our next legislative session with such uncertainty and likely facing even more cuts is a reality that is unfathomable. Teacher pay increases are getting a lot of attention, and deservedly so, after the defeat of SQ779. But, we need our legislators to understand that continuing to cut public education will have dire consequences for the future of our state. If we are not willing to invest in our children's education, we have no hope in realizing Oklahoma's wonderful potential.

Read Mary Mélon's original NewsOK editorial