On Monday the Oklahoma Legislature will begin its 2009 session. Coming up with a workable state budget will be the legislature’s hardest job. An integral part of the budget discussion will be deciding on how much money to put into education.

If area superintendents had their way, more money would come to their districts.

“I’d like to see the funding up to what it used to be at 40 to 50 percent of the budget,” said Barry Nault, superintendent of Buffalo Public Schools.

Terry Kellner, superintendent of Mooreland Public Schools, said that the money the legislature has recently given to schools has gone to teacher’s salaries, but has not covered the every day expenses of school districts.

Most of the superintendents in the area concurred with Kellner’s assessment. They said higher pay for teachers was a good thing, but right now they are struggling with the cost of energy, food and other school necessities.

“Lots of things have been mandated to us,” said Eddie Thomas, superintendent of Laverne Public Schools, “but no money has come our way.”

Kellner said: “Politicians run with us as a priority, but forget us when they get to the Capital.”

Despite these complaints, the superintendents understand that the economy will limit the amount of money available to spend on education. At the least they would like to receive the same amount of funds as last year.

“A status quo would be good at best,” said Dale Ross, superintendent of Waynoka Public Schools.

The lack of funding has forced superintendents to make adjustments to their budget. Nault said Buffalo Public Schools hired from within when some positions became vacant due to retirement.

Last year Waynoka Public Schools had three teachers retire. Ross did not move quickly to fill the positions as he figured the funds might not be there for new hires. Ross said this year the district will wait until March or April to evaluate its budget.

Foresight is something superintendents must possess to weather the bad economy. Fort Supply Superintendent Pat Howell said the outlook for schools will only get worse.

“It’s not going to be good this year,” Howell said, “but next year we are going to be in really bad shape.”

Howell points to the gross production tax from the oil and gas industry. This tax is a major source of school funds. The amount of money a school district receives is based on how much oil and gas are produced in that area. The funds are paid out quarterly.

For the first quarter Howell said most schools received more than they typically have because of the high price of oil. With the dropping price of a barrel of oil, the amount of money brought in by the tax is now lower than normal.

As long as the price of a barrel of oil stays low, less money will be received by schools. Since the tax is so important for schools, Howell said one of the biggest jobs of the superintendent is to watch the tax numbers.

Howell said most of the superintendents in the area are good at watching the budget and have exhibited foresight to the coming budget crunch.

“We recognized over a year ago that funds were getting pretty tight and made careful decisions to help save our money so we would be able to survive the shock of this economic downturn,” Howell said.

Howell and other superintendents have done their best to save money so they can get through these bad times. State money that has been carried over from years when the economy was good has come in handy now.

All the area superintendents agreed that if they had to, they could make it for a little bit by using money in the carryover fund. But if the economic downturn is a last for a long time, schools will be no better off than any other business that relies on public funding.

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