Education Funding

Law May Squeeze Smallest Districts

By Jessica L. Tonn — January 17, 2007 1 min read
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An Oklahoma law intended to curb runaway bureaucracy could have 10 tiny school districts scrambling to make ends meet this year.

According to the law, school districts with 500 students or fewer cannot spend more than 10 percent of their budgets on administration, which includes the salaries of the superintendent and support staff, among other expenses. In Oklahoma, 311 of the 540 districts fall into that category.

Larger systems are subject to those limits as well, but the cap is especially tough in small districts, where even a few modestly paid administrators can account for a significant portion of the budget and where officials already find themselves having to cut corners to stay within their budgets, district officials say.

“We do everything when we’re in a small school,” Shelbie Williams, the superintendent of the Liberty school district in Morris, Okla., said. She regularly pitches in to help with custodial and cafeteria duties, among other tasks, she said.

The district, which has fewer than 50 students, has an annual budget of $375,000, Ms. Williams said. The law would limit her administrative spending to $37,500.

During the 2005-06 school year, which is the year that the Oklahoma education department is evaluating, Liberty exceeded the cap by nearly $31,000. That amount will be cut from the school district’s state aid this year.

The other nine districts will face cuts ranging from $4,200 to $46,700.

While the cap has been in effect since 2003, districts have had a two-year period to get used to the law, said Shelly Hickman, a spokeswoman for the state department of education.

Getting used to it may be impossible for some districts, however.

“I think in most smaller districts that [the cap] will be a problem every year,” said Perry Willis, the executive director of the Organization of Rural Oklahoma Schools.

But there may be a ray of hope for those facing a loss of funds. The state board of education has agreed to send a resolution to the legislature that would allow districts to appeal the cap. The resolution should be ready for the board’s Jan. 25 meeting, according to Ms. Hickman.

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A version of this article appeared in the January 17, 2007 edition of Education Week

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