Path Home Shows 2015 Show Archive November 2015 Show 1547 Oklahoma Horizon TV Show 1547

Oklahoma Horizon TV Show 1547

This week on Oklahoma Horizon, we examine the ever-tightening state budget and the impact cuts could have on rural schools.
Oklahoma Horizon TV Show 1547

Oklahoma Horizon TV Show 1547

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For more information visit these links:

Oklahoma Department of Education

1889 Institute

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OCPA Impact

Oklahoma Public School Resource Center

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Show Details

Show 1547: Oklahoma Horizon TV
Air Date: November 22, 2015



Rob McClendon: Here’s what’s coming up on your “Horizon.” Well, Oklahoma has a hole in its state budget that by some estimates could exceed a billion dollars next fiscal year. And when you consider the legislature only appropriates about $7 billion annually, such a large deficit could have a dramatic impact on state services. And with education comprising the largest single expenditure at the state Capitol, like it or not, Oklahoma students may be impacted. Today, we take a look at an area that often finds itself under lawmakers’ microscope in such austere times, and that’s our rural schools. Stay with us for “Oklahoma Horizon.”

Male Announcer: “Oklahoma Horizon” is made possible by the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education.

Female Announcer: Oklahoma’s investment in CareerTech provides more than nationally recognized technology education and training. It produces solid financial returns for the state’s economic future. Oklahoma CareerTech, elevating our economy.

Male Announcer: And the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, helping good people grow good things. And now, from the CareerTech studios in Stillwater, here’s your host, Rob McClendon.

Rob McClendon: Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining us here on “Horizon.” Well, in the face of an ever-tightening state budget, there are calls all over Oklahoma to prepare for cutbacks, and one area that is often targeted during belt-tightening times is our rural schools, the thought being by consolidating smaller separate school districts you can cut down on administrative costs. And while the push for school consolidation is currently not as great as in years past, what we do know is that every cut at the state Capitol translates into some type of cut on the local level, which could make many of our rural schools less viable, consolidation or not. Our Blane Singletary traveled to two small districts on opposite sides of the state to see how they keep their classrooms funded in small town America.

Blane Singletary: This is Morrison, a community just east of Perry, a small town at 733 people according to the most recent census data, but it’s growing.

Phil Berkenbile: Every year it seems like we’re adding about 10 new houses throughout the district.

Blane: That’s Phil Berkenbile, board president of Morrison Public Schools, though that title barely does him justice.

Berkenbile: I’ve been the ag teacher, the adjunct principal, I’ve been a parent, I’ve been the superintendent, and when I retired from CareerTech, I went on the school board and lucky enough.

Blane: He’s been involved with the school district in some capacity since 1972. At that time, the district served roughly 228 students. Today, that number is projected to be closer to 600 kids, from pre-K to 12th grade. And when it comes to accommodating that growth, this community is more than happy to oblige. For instance, take a look at this new grade school building, built courtesy of a public bond issue.

Berkenbile: It passed by, I think it was either 91 or 90 percent, which was a mandate from the people that they wanted this.

Blane: And even after passing it, in exchange for a tax increase, people still wanted to help in any way they could.

Berkenbile: We’ve had help from the county commissioners and local contractors, local farmers to get it done, and this is a state-of-the-art facility, as you can see a Promethean board.

Blane: This new facility is furnished with the latest in educational technology. When this building was in the planning stages, Berkenbile asked teachers to dream big when it came to what this small district needed.

Berkenbile: And we asked the teachers to go look at places, and they went to Perry and Oologah and Enid and all these other communities and said, “Here’s what we want.”

Blane: He says this individualized approach to local projects is what sets them apart from those bigger districts. And they’re able to do that primarily with help from the community, not the state.

Berkenbile: It also gives us the ability to turn on a dime. If somebody comes up and says, “Hey, we need to put in another class of STEM,” we go out, and we do that, and we find somebody who wants to put in $2,000 or $3,000, and we go buy an unmanned drone for our science classes.

Blane: That same individualized approach also extends to their students, especially those with special needs.

Berkenbile: We take care of all our kids. A student that has a speech problem or something like that, we can put them in a program, work directly with them one-on-one.

Blane: And when a family moves to Morrison, adjusting from the hustle and bustle of a bigger city to the general peace and quiet here, Berkenbile, along with the community, is more than happy to help there, too.

Berkenbile: We have people that have moved in from Tulsa, we have people that have moved in from Kansas, and they already will tell you that they feel like they’re part of the community. They’re involved in several organizations as parents, and their kids are involved. They’re not left out. They’re not thought of as an outsider.

Blane: It’s through community leaders like Phil Berkenbile that Morrison and its small school district have remained welcoming, self-sufficient and prosperous in their own right. So when the c-word -- consolidation -- comes up, Morrison school Superintendent Jay Vernon takes issue.

Jaye Vernon: You know, the smaller the school, the more cheering goes on to let’s consolidate it. But you have a community that is, uh, they’re paying their taxes, too. Those communities need to be allowed to do what they want to do.

Blane: Vernon says one of the major issues the students in a consolidated district will face would be travel.

Vernon: Whether we consolidate part of our district with Pawnee, Glencoe, Stillwater, Perry and Frontier being our closest neighboring school districts, we’d have kids that would be traveling 40 miles, possibly, you know, to school one-way.

Blane: On top of all that, given the large amount of local aid they receive, Vernon says consolidating small districts like Morrison doesn’t make sense from a state budget standpoint.

Vernon: Are we draining the state? We’re bringing in more local money than what we’re receiving in state aid. I think that part needs to be given a little bit more publicity that a lot of these smaller schools, maybe they’ve got 40 or 50 high school kids, but they’re not getting any state aid. It’s all right there local. We need to be aware of that more as a state.

Blane: For another example of that, we head down south. Past Oklahoma City and almost to Lawton, we find the town of Cyril. The school district here is even smaller – serving roughly 388 students and employing about 50 people. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in pride, as Superintendent Jamie Mitchell puts it.

Jamie Mitchell: Cyril is this wonderful little magical town. I came here six years ago, knew nothing really about western Oklahoma. This community is very supportive, and they really stand behind their students. They stand behind their school, and this school means everything to this community.

Blane: The whole town bleeds blue and white down to the street signs on every intersection. And they’re also willing to bleed green if need be.

Mitchell: Financially, whenever we need to raise a little bit of money to send the kids somewhere, to buy new uniforms, we, you know, have to turn over a few rocks, but the money’s always there. You know, someone’s always going to be able to come up with something.

Blane: And in turn, the district is able to get to know each and every student on a personal level.

Mitchell: We excel in giving students hands-on. We know our students’ home life. We can tell from the moment that they walk in the door that they’re good day, bad day, and it’s very special relationships that we’re able to build with our students.

Blane: A relationship that would be lost in a larger or consolidated school district. That’s what all these education leaders agree is the biggest strength in these smallest numbers. Again, Phil Berkenbile.

Berkenbile: We’ve got a good board, we’ve got good teachers, we’ve got good administrators, we’ve got a tremendous staff. We’ve known each other a long time in a lot of cases, and we’re not afraid to sit down and say what we think or what we feel and work out the problem.

Blane: And as Jay Vernon says, a heaping helping of small town pride doesn’t hurt.

Vernon: You know, you’re gonna have more of your friends, family, neighbors, etc., that are gonna share in, you know, just in the pride of what your community has produced. Everybody has that sense of pride. It’s very important for a community to support their school.

Rob McClendon: Well, statewide there are 517 traditional school districts and then another 30 charter schools that are funded by state dollars. And of those, about 300 have fewer than 500 students districtwide. Now, Oklahoma also has a dozen mega-districts whose student populations are between 10,000 and 40,000 students. And when it comes to state spending, Byron Schlomach with the Conservative 1889 Institute says economies of scale do not necessarily hold true when it comes to education.

Byron Schlomach: The highest spending districts on a per student basis are those very large districts. People tend to think that the small districts are the ones that are inefficient because every one of those 300 districts has to have administrators. And so the administrative bloat must be tremendous. The fact is that those very small districts spend more money total on instruction than the very largest districts, and those smallest districts spend less per student than those very largest districts. And the largest districts spend the lowest percentage on instruction than any other of those size classes. The other thing to point out is that those smallest districts only spend about 13 percent of all the money spent on public education in Oklahoma. The largest districts spend 40 percent of all the money spent in public education in Oklahoma. So if there’s a place to save money, it’s in those large districts. If anything we probably ought to be talking less about consolidating districts, which I hear a lot about, and more about splitting up these really large districts.

Rob: Well, with the passage of House Bill 1017, there are financial incentives for newly consolidated school districts. And since the Education Reform Bill was passed in 1990, over 80 schools have annexed or consolidated. Now, when we return, we’ll examine the economic struggle school districts with large tracts of untaxable property can often face.

Male Announcer: You’re watching “Oklahoma Horizon,” featuring some of the good things that are happening in the great state of Oklahoma.

Rob McClendon: Well, the economic impact of Oklahoma’s 38 federally recognized tribes equals $10.8 billion, that according to the Steven Agee Economic and Research Policy Institute at Oklahoma City University. But that does come at a cost to school districts that sit on untaxed Indian land. Since 1950, Congress has provided financial assistance to these local school districts, but in recent years that money, called federal impact aid, has been reduced. Joining me now is our Courtney Maye.

Courtney Maye: School districts serving children living on tribal land have long depended on help from the federal government to make up for revenue lost from local property taxes. We traveled to Sallisaw, Oklahoma, to see the challenges one such district faces.

Courtney Maye: In the eastern part of the state near the Arkansas River, Sallisaw, Oklahoma, is rich in Native American culture. Yet the school district here faces a challenge because tribal land is exempt from property taxes.

Scott Farmer: Our local property values, our local contribution to support education, is lower than most schools. Therefore, we’re more dependent on state aid.

Courtney: Scott Farmer is the superintendent at Sallisaw Public Schools, and with a significant amount of the Sallisaw School District being in tribal land, they’ve had to rely on community support through bonds to pay for school maintenance and upgrades.

Farmer: For every student that’s in a school district, there’s $45,000 of taxable tax base from local revenue to support that kid. Sallisaw’s a little different, our per capita evaluation’s around $23,000, so we’re well under the state average.

Courtney: And Oklahoma Congressman Markwayne Mullin says rural school districts especially are being affected by the lack of funding going into education, causing school administration in some districts to fill multiple roles.

Markwayne Mullin: They’ve lost funding, and so they’re cutting back by, all of the administrators now are doing the substitute teaching.

Courtney: And Mullin says financial struggles lead to educational struggles.

Mullin: That quality goes down, and it can create more of a distraction than an opportunity in an environment that’s conducive to the kids to absorbing that lesson that they’re gonna be getting taught that day.

Courtney: When impact aid is granted to a school district, the funding is used for what that particular school needs at that time.

Farmer: We get to make the decision at a local level on how are we gonna allocate those dollars. Is this the year that we need it for textbooks or the year we are going to buy a school bus or resurface parking lots? So there is an element of flexibility with impact aid dollars that we are grateful for.

Courtney: And for Sallisaw, educational advancement would not be possible without the financial help from impact aid.

Farmer: We are definitely gonna become more and more dependent on getting reimbursed from federal activity.

Rob: So, Courtney, are other schools relying on this impact aid here in Oklahoma?

Courtney: Yes they are. Anywhere where there’s large amounts of federal property.
So the Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, the Army Ammunition Plant in McAlester, Fort Sill and Lawton, all of these school districts are affected by this tax exempt land.

Rob: All right. Thank you so much, Courtney.

Courtney: You’re welcome, Rob.

Female Announcer: Still to come on “Oklahoma Horizon,” local help for schools to meet federal mandates, but first, a 1-cent solution?

Rob McClendon: Well, an effort to let Oklahomans vote whether they want to better fund education with a penny sales tax is now on hold. A lawsuit filed by the advocacy group OCPA Impact maintains the proposal violates state constitutional requirements that such a measure embrace just a single subject. According to legal papers filed before the Oklahoma Supreme Court, the penny sales tax initiative bundles four items together: a pay raise for teachers, educational funding improvements, a new penny sales tax and a change in the appropriation process at the state Capitol. Now, OCPA Impact is the lobbying partner of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a conservative think tank that pushes for smaller government and cuts in state services.

David Boren: Oklahoma’s economy will decline if we do not invest more in education.

Rob: University of Oklahoma President David Boren is a backer of the penny sales tax initiative and says, quote, “It is a shame that any organization would try to stop the people of Oklahoma from having the right to vote on such an important issue to the children of Oklahoma and our state’s future.” Now, even if the Supreme Court challenge fails, backers of the penny tax will still need to get the language of the petition approved, then collect as many as 130,000 signatures to get the issue on next November’s ballot. Now, according to the Tax Foundation, Oklahoma ranks 32nd in our overall tax burden; property taxes are particularly low, coming in at 11th lowest in the nation, but our sales tax is the 38th highest. Estimates are the extra penny sales tax will cost the average Oklahoma household $262 a year. Now, at the same time, education spending in Oklahoma has been cut by 23 percent since 2008, and in state-by-state comparisons, that ranks us 43rd in what we spend in the classroom.

Rob McClendon: Well, between 1970 and 2010, the cost of educating a young person in this country all the way through high school graduation, well, it’s tripled. During those four decades, we’ve seen new classroom time in kindergarten and pre-K become much more common, but we’ve also seen an increase in administrative costs to meet new educational mandates. Earlier, I sat down with Brent Bushey, the executive director of the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center, to talk about their mission to help our schools.

Brent Bushey: We have five directors. We’re kind of a back office for schools that don’t have one, is one way to describe what we do. We have directors in technology, finance, legal, teaching and learning or curriculum and, I always forget one, I think communications I forgot this time. The idea there is we provide a wraparound service. Schools can call one of those directors at any time that they need help, and we don’t charge extra. We just charge a one-time fee – it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet. And so we’re there as consultants for schools in those five areas. We’re a connector, when we can say, oh well, this, you had that challenge, that was a challenge last week for this school district. So we can connect schools. And then we provide professional development and other sorts of solutions to challenges. And what we’re going toward and through our membership model is, we want to be top of mind for administrators to call and we want to be the place when they have a challenge or when they want to be strategic and be creative, that we’re a place that they can reach out to for ideas and ideally for resources as well.

Rob: Well, as everyone really knows, the budget, the state budget this next year is certainly not projected to be very good, and that’s going to mean, possibly, some reduced funding for schools, and that’s a whole debate into itself. How does your group come in there to help?

Bushey: Sure. So, uh, yeah, the budget scenario is not pretty for anyone. And I think no matter what, it’s gonna be a difficult year for everyone. We are supportive of public schools, both, you know, in terms of our interactions with them as well as supportive at the Capitol building. And we would hope that, you know, legislators take into account the important work that educators are doing. So what we’re looking at is how can we advocate for schools to get the funding that they need as well as if we can’t give them a raise, if we can’t prevent cuts, how can we remove other burdens, other administrative burdens, as well as how can we spur innovation, you know? The puck we do more with less. I think no matter what, that’s the mentality that we should be driven by on a daily basis, but especially in times of short budgets that we need to look toward innovation. And I think that that can a number of different avenues, looking at how we can use technology more effective, how we can share resources amongst districts, how we can take advantage of retired teachers who are out in the field that potentially could come back in a part-time way. I think there’s, there’s no silver bullet. This is gonna be a difficult year. And no matter what, education will always be a difficult thing because it’s hard work. But I think that while teacher pay and our budget are and should be driving some of the majority of our education discussion, we can’t let that blind us to the other variables that we can control and that we can focus on to make educators’ lives easier.

Rob: Great. Well, Brent, we certainly appreciate you coming by.

Bushey: Definitely. Thank you.

Rob McClendon: Want to share something you’ve seen here today? Well, all of our episodes are streaming on our YouTube channel at OklahomaHorizonTV, or you can subscribe to our weekly free podcast on iTunes.

Rob McClendon: Well, some familiar faces were inducted into Oklahoma’s Hall of Fame this year – Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant, legendary musical promoter Jim Halsey and the first executive director of the College Football Playoff Bill Hancock were among eight honorees, one of whom you may recognize the name of, but not know the person even though he was instrumental in improving the lives of thousands of Oklahomans.

Female Announcer: Educators called the man who will be inducted posthumously in the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, Mr. Vo-Tech, Francis Tuttle, who would leave an indelible mark on the history of Oklahoma. He grew up as a farm kid in overalls in Wellston, Oklahoma. He learned hard work and teamwork. In 1938, he was senior class president. He went on to Oklahoma A&M, graduating in 1942 with a bachelor of science degree in agriculture education. After serving his country in World War II, he eventually became superintendent in the small town of Gotebo, Oklahoma.

Tom Friedemann: Not everybody is going to college, and there’s this mass of really bright, intelligent folks there that have this ability but we just weren’t putting enough resources. I think he was always frustrated as a superintendent of public education that he couldn’t provide those kind of facilities. So when he got this opportunity to design a system from scratch, he jumped all over on that. It was so innovative it took a constitutional amendment to even make it legal. And that’s the kind of vision he had.

Announcer: He and Gov. Dewey Bartlett worked as a team to create a unique concept that would become the envy of every other state in the nation.

Dewey Bartlett Jr: He not only was a good man and a good visionary man, he was the father of the vo-tech system. Dad did a lot of things, but without Dr. Tuttle it would not have happened. It absolutely would not have happened. They made a great team, and they became, and they really were, true friends.

Roy Peters: He and I were lobbying for money, and we walked into a senator’s office and the secretary was typing. She said, “Well, can I tell him who’s here to see him?” And he said, “Yes, this is Roy Peters, and I’m Francis Tuttle.” And she stopped typing and for the first time, she looked up, and she said, “Francis Tuttle!” He said, “Yes, ma’am.” And she said, “I take night classes at Francis Tuttle.” And he said, “Yes, my mother named me after that school.”

Friedemann: Well, you know, just, just think about it, if Dr. Tuttle hadn’t of come onto the scene, there wouldn’t be 29 CareerTech center districts right now with 59 campuses covering 98 percent of the state. And that only happened because he was the right man at the right time to be here.

Announcer: Now, people who weren’t typical college-bound students could have professional instruction to help them get good paying jobs right here at home. It was a game changer for Oklahoma. In 1982, the Francis Tuttle Vo-Tech Center was dedicated to the people in its district. His visionary ideas live on.

Male Voice: I think that the strategy for tomorrow is going to be that a greater requirement, a greater emphasis is going to be put on the more technical aspect of vocational training.

Friedemann: Our mission here is that we prepare our students for success in the workplace.

Mary Fallin: We know there’s some great paying jobs, especially as you look into the aerospace industry, the energy sector which are top industries in our state that pay really well. That a welder can make, you know, $70,000, $80,000, $90,000 a year; an electrician, same thing; plumber, same thing; a computer technician, same thing. You know, those are all good paying jobs for Oklahomans in need of jobs.

Friedemann: He was just so concentrated on making Oklahomans productive. And in many cases, you know, turning tax users into taxpayers.

Announcer: Francis Tuttle was dedicated to enriching the lives of people in Oklahoma. He was also a dedicated family man who loved his wife, children and grandchildren.

Ryan Tuttle: The most amazing thing is, is when, every time we go to an event that has anything to do with the CareerTech System, you know, we come away amazed with how strongly those people feel about my grandfather. They, I mean, they idolize him, and they think they just can’t say enough about a wonderful guy he is. And I think they, they all worked so hard to make a lot of this stuff happen.

Announcer: Dr. Tuttle, a man revered in his field, retired in 1986 but his legacy lives on.

Male Voice: I don’t see anything but a tremendous future. Thank you [applause].

Rob McClendon: Next time on “Oklahoma Horizon,” we look at second chances for dogs no one wanted and the people who work with them behind bars.

Lee Fairchild: They get softer and are a lot more responsible, a lot more careful. And then they start getting that, back to that hope.

Rob: “The Dogs of Lexington” on Oklahoma’s show for the heartland, “Oklahoma Horizon.”

Male Announcer: Thank you for watching “Oklahoma Horizon.”