OKLAHOMA CITY — School leaders are bracing for another round of budget cuts, which they warn will likely lead to larger class sizes and a fewer programs.
Educators in two of the state’s largest districts say no one knows how bad the damage will be until legislators set the budget in May.
But lawmakers are facing a $611 million deficit, and in a presentation to state senators last week, state Superintendent Joy Hofmeister revealed that her department is braced for a 2 to 4 percent cut from its nearly $2.5 billion budget.
That translates to $49.7 million to $99.4 million less in school spending that will affect every district in the state from the largest, in Oklahoma City with 45,000 students, to the smallest, in rural Byars which has about 40 students.
Hardest hit, Hofmeister said, will be the state’s 10 largest districts, which stand to lose up to $26.9 million in student spending under a 4 percent cut.
In addition to Oklahoma City, those districts are in Tulsa, Moore, Edmond, Putnam City, Broken Arrow, Lawton, Union, Norman and Mid-Del City.
In Moore, the schools could lose $2.6 million in state funding, according to a Department of Education analysis.
The district next to Oklahoma City, which adds about 500 new students a year, gets about two-thirds of its annual budget — about $61 million — from the state, said Moore Superintendent Robert Romines.
“Any cuts at this point are going to be monumental simply because education has not been funded at an adequate rate for many years,” he said.
Romines said the district needs more state funding to continue to hire teachers and support staff to serve its burgeoning student population.
A $2.6 million cut, or 4 percent, will likely come from per-pupil funding and could force cuts of 40 to 50 teaching positions and larger class sizes, he said.
“There’s only so many hits that a group can take and continue to sustain,” he said.
The likely cuts are particularly painful for districts still struggling to make up for “drastic cuts” that began in 2008 and coincided with the recession, said Lori Smith, chief financial officer for Edmond Public Schools.
State education appropriations to local school districts dropped from more than $2 billion in fiscal year 2009 to about $1.8 billion last year. While legislators added back about $80 million in their last session, it wasn’t enough to fill the gap from the recession-era cuts.
Federal stimulus dollars helped local districts temporarily, but legislators didn't make up for that money when it dried up in 2012. Smith said Edmond schools were getting about $20 million in federal stimulus.
Smith said school districts were promised, “Once the federal stimulus got us over the hump, the funding would be replaced by the state."
“What they have put in hasn’t been enough to make up for what we lost," she said.
Edmond relies on the state for about 43 percent of its $136 million school budget. Another 43 percent comes from property taxes, and the rest comes from other sources like the county and federal dollars.
Smith said the district has already had to make cuts.
“There is almost nothing left to cut,” she said. “It’s programs and class sizes that are the only things that are left.”
A report last fall by the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities showed that Oklahoma cut per-pupil spending by 23.6 percent from 2007 to 2015.
It was the largest cut nationally, equaling about $857 per student, the report found.
The same report noted that the state has worsened its prospects for future education funding by cutting income taxes.