Financial issues cause school layoffs

A school district, like any institution, takes money to run. When that money is in short supply, the institution has to reduce expenses. When the institution cuts expenses by letting go of employees, it is known as a layoff. The Duncan Public School District is currently undergoing such actions.

The layoffs, which will affect teachers with temporary contracts, have to happen because of financial issues, according to high school principal Justin Smith. He says that the district as a whole will be short by almost $1 million next school year.

“All in all, it looks like our deficit right now is going to be about $800,000 from what it was this past year,” he said. “Because of that, there are some cuts that are having to be made. Elementary is having to reduce some numbers, the middle school is having to reduce numbers, and the high school has had to reduce numbers.”

Smith explained that the financial deficit is due to several factors. One of those factors is Duncan’s average daily membership, or attendance the more students the district has, the more money it gets from the state. Enrollment has gone down across the district recently, which results in less money for Duncan Public Schools.

High school attendance clerk Donna Hale explained how this works.

“Our money is based on whatever we get from Oct. 1,” she said. “We turn in our enrollment count for Oct. 1, and then the elementary schools and the middle school all do the same thing. That’s what’s turned into the state, and that’s how we get our funding.”

The loss of money from this lack of enrollment and other factors is what is causing the staff reduction. These layoffs will mainly affect teachers with temporary contracts. Teachers in Duncan are hired on two-year temporary contracts. After two years, if the teacher has proven himself/herself a good employee, the teacher gets a permanent contract. During those first two years, however, the temporary teachers are much easier to be released by the district. Because of this, the layoffs are primarily affecting the temporary teachers.

Smith explained how this uniquely affects the high school.

“Each principal across the district is having to go through some of this,” he said. “But the high school, because we do have more temporary teachers than most, we are facing a little more of it than some of them.”

Fluctuations in financial issues are nothing new to Duncan. According to the Oklahoma State Department of Education, the district’s total expenditures have been up and down over the past six years. Each of those years, staff and faculty salaries have made up the largest single chunk of normal spending for the district.

Given this focus on teachers, it is no surprise that the district isn’t happy with laying off its teachers.

“[Laying off teachers is] always a last resort. You know, people are what make schools great, and I hate ever having to reduce my staff,” Smith said. “It’s a hard decision for me to make, and I hate that we have to do it because it affects families; you know, it affects these teachers’ families. I don’t like having to do that, but it’s part of the job.”

This reduction of the high school staff will lead to changes in the school, such as larger class sizes and a more limited selection of electives. However, Smith is confident that the school will continue to thrive despite the smaller number of employees.

“We’re still going to have school, and we’re still going to make sure that students are served,” he said. “It’s a growing pain, and we’ll get through it.”