March 23, 2016 / 10:55 PM / 4 years ago

Oklahoma City Public Schools District announces teacher layoffs

(Reuters) - The Oklahoma City Public Schools District will eliminate 208 classroom teaching positions to help grapple with a $30 million revenue shortfall, the district’s top official said on Wednesday.

The layoffs are the latest impact of the state’s declaration of “revenue failure” late last year amid a collapse in the price of oil and gas, which it relies on for tax revenues.

Eliminating the teaching positions will save the state’s largest school district roughly $8 million, Superintendent Rob Neu said in a memo to teachers.

The layoffs are expected to increase class sizes when they are implemented during the 2016-2017 school year, but the district will not exceed state mandated classroom sizes, he said.

Most of the cuts will be absorbed through attrition and retirement, he said.

Oil-related revenue accounted for 10 percent of Oklahoma’s budget at the peak of the shale boom in 2014. But in December the state slashed its oil production tax revenue forecast for this year to $2 million from $102 million planned for in June.

“This is the first in a series of tough decisions ahead as we traverse through this very difficult financial time,” Neu said in a memo to Oklahoma City Public School staff seen by Reuters.

He said the budget outlook for the district is “abysmal” and officials are exploring an additional $22 million in adjustments, which will impact every school in the district.

The announcement comes on the same day that Governor Mary Fallin signed two measures to tap nearly $80 million from the state’s rainy day fund, including $51 million for the state Department of Education to pay the full cost of health insurance for its employees.

Neu said that while the drawdown is appreciated, it is not enough to avoid the layoffs in the district, which currently employs about 2,700 teachers.

Gene Perry, policy director for independent think tank the Oklahoma Policy Institute, said the new cuts are especially damaging because Oklahoma has been slashing education spending for years, even when oil prices were booming.

“After years of these cuts, Oklahoma schools have no good options to keep fulfilling their mission unless state leaders come up with new revenues for education,” he said.

Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Andrew Hay

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