Kayla Branch Transcript Staff Writer
As all of Oklahoma’s public schools are trying to cope with shrinking budgets, public schools in Norman are faring better than most.
The State Board of Education has continued to see a decline in appropriations from the state, according to budget legislation. And while this steady drop in funding for public schools is still felt in Norman, it does not have administrators considering extreme action, said Nick Migliorino, the superintendent for Norman Public Schools.
“Since 2008 or 2009, state funding has declined per pupil as our student population increases and we are receiving less or the same amount of money,” Migliorino said. “The budget and the funding that is given to us, just like every school, has challenged us as a district and we’ve really had to tighten up and be as efficient as we possibly can and it has made us really look at the hiring that we do and the places that we put people and where we might shift some of our resources.”
“But we hope that from everything we are doing that our parents and students see little-to-no impact and that is our challenge as a school district to provide the opportunity for the best experience in our schools. There are challenges and there could be a few cases where class sizes have increased but that is the extent of what we might see and we hope to keep that to a minimum. But as far as services and programs and those things, we’re not cutting any of those.”
One factor that has played a role in allowing NPS to continue to do well is an initiative to become eco-friendly and save money through conservation, Migliorino said.
“Over the past few years, we’ve really started to have a huge commitment towards energy conservation and saving money through that, so we’ve saved over $2 million in utilities alone in that time,” Migliorino said. “We help train and teach employees and students to be conscious of their surroundings and to not be wasteful with small things like turning off the lights when they leave a room. We are also installing and retrofitting LED lights in buildings and are putting new technology in old facilities that help conserve energy.”
Another reason Norman has had this more positive outcome, compared to school districts that have been forced to go to four day schools weeks due to budget constraints, comes from the pull for teachers to want to move to Norman, said Jason Brown, assistant superintendent of personnel for Norman Public Schools.
“Norman is a highly sought after district,” Brown said. “We have gone the extra step by offering signing bonuses for various positions, we offer bootcamp classes to get teachers a special education certification added to their current certifications, we are one of the only districts in the state to give and pay teachers who are out of state complete credit for their experience. There are a lot of reasons why Norman is such an attractive place to be.”
The Norman Public School system, which is made up of 25 schools, currently has roughly 95 job openings for the rest of the summer and the upcoming academic year, according to the NPS website. There have already been 160 positions filled during the same time period, Brown said.
Brown said turnover is normal in a school district of this size and he expects most of the remaining positions to be filled before the start of the school year. These positions range from electrical maintenance to fourth grade teachers to speech pathologists, he said.
“We don’t have just a bunch of concerns, but it would be nice to have some science teachers, speech pathologists and psychologists walk through the door and ask for jobs,” Brown said. “But this is a very normal year and we’re about where we typically are.”
Most schools are not this lucky, Brown said, and the challenges facing Norman schools help put into perspective what it must be like for other districts.
“Imagine a school district that is attractive to teachers, is right in the backyard of OU, is technology rich and does a great job with students and teacher professional development but still has teacher vacancies in July,” Brown said. “That really worries me to think about other districts that aren’t in the same position as Norman because we would be having completely different conversations if we were from a different district. It’s very worrisome for the kids in our state that don’t have the benefit of going to Norman Public Schools.”
As schools in the state continue to face tough decisions and challenges, the future is dependent upon the actions of the state legislature, Migliorino said.
“If our legislature continues to do what they have been doing for the past years, we will get what we’ve always received, which is a flat or declining budget,” he said. “I hope they come up with a plan and don’t just go home over the summer and relax and start new next year but that they continue to work and put something together so that when session begins next year, they come in with a plan and it’s not just talk.”
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