Superintendent Durkee comments on proposed Special Session of Legislature, district financial difficulties

By: Scott Emigh, Editor-in-Chief

Governor Mary Fallin has recently released a statement calling for a special session of the State Legislature to reallocate $140.8 million that was initially cut from agency allocations. Without a special session, the money will be equally redistributed among all agencies receiving general revenue allocations, according to a report.

“I’ve begun discussions with legislative leaders to consider calling lawmakers to return in special session to address the issue of teacher pay raises,” says Fallin.

Sand Springs Superintendent Sherry Durkee expressed doubts that the session would amount to anything. “It’s hard to be optimistic when you look at how budgets are formulated at the State level.”

The available funds aren’t true surplus, and are only one-time funds that exist solely due to unnecessarily deep allocation reductions required by the Fiscal Year 2016’s midyear revenue failure. Because of this, any attempt at a pay raise for teachers would only be sustainable for this year, and would require additional funding be located in the future.

According to Superintendent Durkee, district funding from the State will be down 2.3% behind last year, despite assurances from the Capitol that it would remain flat. Additionally, certain allocations were not made available this year, including funding for new textbooks. The school board made the decision to go ahead and purchase textbooks with money from the district general fund, an option that many districts across the state aren’t capable of. The school district is also 51 employees fewer than this time last year. “Class sizes are going to grow,” said Durkee. “Our goal is to not overspend our revenue...We have to protect our district.”

A lawsuit has already been filed asking the Supreme Court to demand that Governor Fallin return the money to the State agencies from whom it was cut. Senate Democratic Leader John Sparks, of Norman, issued the following statement Wednesday.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—we don’t have to pass a new law to determine how and where these funds should be spent. We passed a budget in May of 2015 which directed how these funds were to be spent. The governor and her staff are over-stepping their authority by continuing to withhold these funds. The governor’s finance team needs to simply distribute these funds to the agencies for which they were originally appropriated. This is not a difficult problem to solve—just follow the law, and distribute the funds to the agencies who suffered unlawful and unauthorized cuts.

“This is another example of the Republicans at the state Capitol not following even their own laws. Instead, the burden is on hard working Oklahomans to hold the governor, her fiscal staff, and the Republican leadership at the Capitol accountable.

“Thousands of Oklahomans across our state are suffering under the weight of the massive budget cuts forced on our state agencies, from foster families and guardians who need the most basic health and safety services which no longer have funding; to teachers who received pink slips; to corrections staff working in unsafe, understaffed conditions.

“It is long past time for the governor, her fiscal staff, and the Republicans in the Legislature to stop trying to play politics with these funds and simply give it back to the agencies that desperately need this funding and received what we now know were unnecessary, damaging budget cuts.”