Office of the Superintendent – Dr. Sean McDaniel
March 30, 2016
Dear Mustang Parents,
The 4th Quarter of the 2016-16 school year has arrived and, as you know, it is the busiest time of the year with testing, events, and all of the typical end-of-year activities. I want to thank you for the important role you play in making this year an exceptional one for all of our students. As I think we all understand, it takes all of us working together to make each school year a success.
We are now at the halfway point of the 2016 Legislative Session. I want to provide you with information related to the session and to the budget landscape in general. Keep in mind that with regard to legislative issues and finance issues, the scenario can change quickly.
Remember a few things as you hear and read information regarding the financial climate of the state and of the district. First, know that every district has a unique story based upon multiple variables and circumstances. While we are interested and concerned about our neighbors, our primary focus is on Mustang Public Schools. Each district in Oklahoma has a specific set of challenges that may be much different than ours and our approach to dealing with our challenges may be different than others’. Secondly, Oklahoma’s public schools are experiencing a funding crisis. There is no question about it. It is a fact. In Mustang, however, the crisis has not and will not result in panic. With input from employees, parents, and patrons we will continue to make decisions that will allow our district to provide the best and most well-rounded education anywhere. We desparately need a long-term funding solution for public education. If one is not developed very soon, we will see class sizes rise significantly, we will see some programs and services reduced and others possibly cut altogether, and eventually, it could affect our students in a negative manner. I can assure you; my message is not a scare tactic. This is just where we are right now with Oklahoma public school funding.
$1.3 billion dollars and rising. This is the approximate shortfall comparing last year to this year that the legislature has to work with. The legislature is responsible for funding 72 state agencies. Public schools are one of those agencies. They have an enormous responsibility and an even bigger challenge to decide how to fairly distribute $1.3B fewer dollars. They most certainly won’t make everyone happy. Last year the legislature was approximately $611 million behind from the prior year totaling a shortfall of nearly $2B over a two year period. What that has meant to Mustang is a reduction to our local budget of $4.4M; $1.4M a year ago and $3M heading into next year. Our challenges continue to be keeping our class sizes manageable, keeping job loss to a minimum, and continuing to provide a world class education for our students. I want to emphasize again: if a permanent funding solution for public schools is not developed we will continue to face challenges that will become more and more difficult to overcome. Tapping into the Rainy Day fund and approving supplemental appropriation requests will relieve some of the pain we have felt this year, but it will do very little to change the shortfall we are anticipating for next year. Consequently, our budgeting and planning will not change based upon relief we get prior to June 30th of this year.
School Vouchers have been a hot topic for several years. Otherwise known as Education Savings Accounts, vouchers got some traction this year. In the House of Representatives HB2949 made it through committee and was scheduled for a vote on the full House floor. The OEA and the Oklahoma State School Boards Association issued statements regarding the devastating impact of HB2949 on public education. Locally, passage of this bill could cost Mustang anywhere from $500K to $3M annually, depending on participation in the voucher program. While HB2949 was awaiting a vote on the House side, Senate Bill 609 was scheduled to be heard on the floor of the Senate. SB609 was very similar to its counterpart on the House side. THANKFULLY both House and Senate leadership pulled both bills from the floor and neither was heard. Both voucher bills are dead! Thank you to the dozens of you who contacted your legislators regarding these two bills. Your participation was effective and very much needed.
Both the House and the Senate approved the new ELA and Math standards late last Monday. Thank you to the educators and parents in Mustang who helped review the standards. Detailed information regarding the roll out and full implementation of the standards will be forthcoming. We are grateful that the Legislature approved them.
We continue to track education bills regarding the elimination of EOI’s, a teacher pay increase, and school funding.
Our legislators are all very approachable and consistently ask for our input. You are encouraged to remain active with your legislators in two ways. First, when a bill passes or is defeated and it helps our schools in some way, let them know either by calling them or by emailing them with your thanks. Secondly, if a bill is scheduled to be heard that could affect our schools, provide them with your input. When they hear from us it helps throughout the process.
LOCAL BUDGET OUTLOOK
Last year as we closed out the school year and prepared for this year we reduced $1.4M of expenditures. This year as we plan for the 2016-17 school year we will reduce district expenditures by an additional $3M. Our need to reduce our budget is for three primary reasons; one, as a response to the continued cuts from the state in the current year. Because of two Revenue Failures (December 23rd and March 3rd) Mustang has lost approximately $1.4M that had already been committed to us by the state and budgeted locally in the current year. A second reason for our local reduction is to prepare for next year’s cuts from the state. A $1.3B loss of revenue at the state level will result in a loss of funding for Mustang. The third primary reason for a $3M reduction locally is to allow us to continue to build a healthy reserve. For the past several years Mustang has spent reserves in order to keep up with district growth while continuing to offer programs and services at a very high level. While our state funding has remained neutral, we have grown between 300-500 kids annually. In order to meet the needs of that growth we have used our reserve funds. We are at a point now that we cannot continue to do so and must rebuild reserves.
The positive news is that we have done an outstanding job in retaining programs, services, and staff despite budget reductions. There are multiple strategies we have employed to get us to our targets, including:
ü Attrition. By far this is the biggest single reduction option. When employees leave the district through resignation or retirement we take a hard look at whether or not we can absorb the position and not replace it.
ü Reducing school, program, and department budgets. Schools and programs specifically have leaned on and will continue to lean on booster groups, PTA’s, and generous donations from the community.
ü Contract reductions. Examples would include renegotiating existing contracts we have for services or waiving fees for services altogether.
ü Bond Offsets to General Fund. Recently we were blessed in a huge way when we passed the February 9 bond election and in doing so we can now use bond proceeds to pay for items and projects that have been paid for through the General Fund in previous years.
ü Efficiencies. One example is the monitoring of paper copies across the district. While painful at times, adherence to copy counts has saved the district money, consequently helping us to meet the targets that we have established.
ü Utilities. Everyone across the district, in one way or another, has contributed to lowering our utility costs. From turning off lights and computers at the end of the day to systematically changing out thermostats and then monitoring energy usage; we have saved tens of thousands of dollars this year alone in efficiencies and rebate programs.
As a result of a district and community full of individuals who have committed to a plan – we have had minimal job loss, we have manageable class sizes, and we continue to offer a full range of programs and services to our kids. Any job loss is difficult and when it happens it places an additional burden on everyone else. I am grateful that everyone else has responded.
As of today we are approximately $2M toward our goal of reducing the 2016-17 budget by $3M. While we have taken a sizeable step toward the goal, $2M will not be enough to put us in a reasonable position heading into next year. Our options now are limited and may include: additional reduction of personnel and/or positions (resulting in a spike in class sizes), additional program budget reductions and/or elimination of specific programs (resulting in reducing or eliminating opportunities for kids), further attrition (additional employees leave the district and we don’t refill the positions), and salary furloughs and freezes (must be negotiated for teachers), to name a few. We will know more as we continue to understand what the cuts to education will be for the remainder of this year and next.
Many, many ideas about how to save money have been suggested from across the community. All of them have been discussed. Some of them have been enacted or will be enacted, while others didn’t seem to provide an advantage regarding budget reductions. While everything is still on the table, a few of the popular ideas that haven’t made the cut yet include:
1. A four-day work week for 2016-17. We took three things into consideration when looking at this; the projected savings (which was minimal), the resulting academic consequences (adding an 1 ½ hours to each school day would be a challenge for many, many students; especially our younger ones and our students with special needs), and the burden on parents (primarily from a monetary standpoint) and the decision was pretty easy. A four-day week may work for other districts but the costs clearly seem to outweigh the benefits in Mustang.
2. Alter Transportation. Other districts in Oklahoma may begin to charge students to ride a bus to school from home and to home from school. While clearly a revenue generator, the hardship on families, especially those with no other means to get kids to school and/or home again or those with multiple kids would be difficult. We have also discussed consolidating bus routes which would result in fewer routes, fewer busses running, fewer drivers to pay, less fuel used, and ultimately a reduction to the budget. While not currently on the table, if state funding doesn’t improve, we will be discussing this again.
3. Eliminate Specific Programs. Mustang offers multiple programs, clubs, and opportunities for our 10,798 kids. Most that are offered are over and above what is required. Suggestions we received ranged from eliminating all middle school athletics, to eliminating stipends for sponsors and coaches, to reducing or eliminating art and music in grades K-6. Again, each idea is discussed and considered. I think most would agree that it is the variety of opportunities that Mustang offers that helps makes us who we are. None of the above suggestions are under consideration today; however, all of them could be up for consideration in the future if the state doesn’t find us relief in terms of sustainable funding.
As I get additional information I will communicate it to you. Thank you for your patience and for your support. As always, please feel free to share your suggestions and ideas with me via email at email@example.com, phone call, or schedule a time to come see me. As we continue to work together, we will meet the challenges before us.