I'm excited to begin today's email with good news: Gov. Stitt has announced an executive order ensuring all support employees can be paid even though school buildings are closed. While many school districts had already assured support employees that their pay was not in jeopardy, we're appreciative Gov. Stitt provided assurance districts have the legal authority to protect support employee pay in the same manner as certified employee pay.
After yesterday’s budget-focused email, I’ve had many questions and requests for more specifics about how districts should tackle planning for next year. Those of you who know me aren’t surprised that optimism is my normal state of mind.
I believe legislative leaders when they speak about their intent to protect education. Legislators worked hard over the last two years to increase education investment, and they don’t want to see that investment reversed. I remain hopeful that their demonstrated commitment to education combined with federal stimulus dollars mean education will be protected. However, I also recognize hope and optimism don’t balance a budget.
On Monday, the state Board of Equalization will meet and is expected to declare a revenue failure. The Legislature is then expected to meet to tap Rainy Day Funds to help balance this year’s budget.
As local education leaders, I think it’s appropriate and important to maintain an optimistic posture when sharing information, particularly with employees. I also understand planning for an unpredictable future is your responsibility.
I don’t know where the economic floor is right now. Legislative leaders don’t either. If Oklahoma’s COVID-19 cases peak later than projected, that could exacerbate the economic impact on this fiscal year. Regardless of the peak timing, it’s even more unclear how long the public health emergency will last or when the economy might begin to recover. Federal stimulus will help soften the blow, and it’s possible Congress could pass even more aid in the future. So much remains uncertain.
Just a few short years ago amid repeated revenue shortfalls, we advised districts to take a tiered approach to budget planning. I believe that is again the appropriate approach – financially and academically.
Financially, school board members and administrators should develop a flat budget plan for next school year, along with contingency plans for modest and more severe cuts.
Academically, local education leaders should plan for how districts can use the summer months for academic recovery or enrichment and how school will look in the fall if closures remain necessary. The state Education Department’s technology survey should provide valuable information that could help districts with large numbers of students and families who face technology and internet access barriers.
Districts should also make short- and long-term plans for summer and fall feeding plans. The economic devastation is hitting home for many families who may rely on the feeding plans more than ever.
The financial and academic worst-case scenarios are unsettling. Today, the University of Oklahoma announced all summer courses will be online and all in-person events through July 31 are suspended.
Today's public health emergency is unprecedented in modern times. One thing I trust is the commitment of local education leaders to make hard decisions in the best interest of students.
Please contact me if you have questions or need additional information. My mobile number is 580.747.0179 or you can email me at email@example.com. You can also contact any member of the OSSBA team if you need a listening ear or assistance with academic and/or financial planning. We’re here to help.
Shawn Hime, Ph.D.