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School district ponders cuts

With a wary eye toward continued reductions in education funding, local school officials are open to suggestions on how to make cuts in the district’s already bare-bones budget.

“Our estimates for the rest of this school year show revenue will possibly be down as much as $200,000,” said Dr. Landon Berry, the superintendent of Pawhuska Public Schools.

A slight boost for education funding was proposed in the state budget proposed last week by Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, but that

Pawhuska Board of Education members held a special meeting Thursday to discuss the budget for the remainder of the 2013-14 year (which ends June 30) and for 2014-15

The governor announced her budget proposal as she delivered her State of the State address at the start of the 2014 Oklahoma Legislature.

Fallin says her budget proposes targeted spending cuts and asks agencies to continue to find ways to operate more efficiently and effectively and to cut waste.

The governor says the cuts she is proposing amount to 5 percent or less of agency budgets, and in total amount to about 1 percent of state spending. She says that any business “worth its salt” can find 5 percent cost savings without crippling the services it provides.

Fallin also is proposing a $50 million increase to education spending to help students at Oklahoma’s public schools.The state education department would receive a $50 million funding increase to pay for local school district operations, reading sufficiency programs, charter school building funds and teacher benefit costs.

Last year’s proposed state budget of $7.1 billion included $3.4 billion for education, a zero percent growth rate. It eventuallt was enacted with $3.6 billion set aside for education (a 6 percent increase).

Fallin called on the Legislature to cut the state’s highest income tax rate by 0.25 percent and recommended that lawmakers cut most state agencies’ budgets by 5 percent to help pay for it.

“I believe responsibly lowering the income tax is the right thing to do,” the governor said during her State of the State address. “Let’s take this opportunity to show our country that lower taxes and limited government do work.”

The governor said she knows her request for 5 percent cuts in most agency budgets will cause some to proclaim the sky is falling.

“But guess what? It’s not,” Fallin said. “Any business worth its … salt can find 5 percent cost savings without crippling the services it provides. Families have to make the same decisions and the same choices all the time.”

The governor’s executive budget calls for a $120 million bond issue for repairs to the state Capitol, which she referred to as a much-needed issue. She said she would appropriate $7.68 million for the first year’s debt service.

Fallin also is asking the Legislature to consolidate several state agencies, continue fighting Obamacare expansion and allow patrons of local school districts to vote on raising their schools’ debt limits to pay for tornado shelters and other public safety improvements.

Berry said district revenue has already been reduced by approximately $500,000 and further cuts appear necessary.

“We hope we are wrong in our revenue projections,” the superintendent said. “We’ll be glad to take whatever we can, but we’ve got to plan for the amounts we expect to be getting.”

He said school officials are taking suggestions from anyone with regard to possible budget cuts.

“Hopefully, nothing is going to be necessary that is going to hurt the kids of this district,” Barry said.

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