The first in a series of community forums designed to educate the public and solicit feedback about three proposals for downsizing Tulsa Public Schools will be held this week, with others to follow throughout April.
Officials of the cash-strapped district unveiled the three plans being considered under the Project Schoolhouse initiative on March 29, with Superintendent Keith Ballard explaining the proposals at a press conference that day. TPS patrons will get their first chance to express their views on the plans to district officials at 6pm on Tuesday, April 12 at Gilcrease Middle School, 5550 N. Cincinnati Ave.
Other forums will be held on Thursday, April 14 at Foster Middle School, 12121 E. 21st St.; Tuesday, April 19 at Thoreau Demonstration Academy, 7370 E. 71st St.; and Monday, April 25 at Clinton Middle School, 2224 W. 41st St. All forums begin at 6pm and are open to the public.
Plan A calls for the closure of 13 elementary schools and three middle schools. Plan B calls for the closure of 10 elementary schools and four middle schools. Plan C calls for the closure of 15 elementary schools, one middle school and one high school.
Ballard said last week the district has gone through a long, slow period of decline in which its enrollment has declined by more than 50 percent. That has left many of its schools greatly under capacity, necessitating the Project Schoolhouse initiative. District officials expect to realize savings of $6.1 million to $9.5 million under the three plans being considered.
"If we can reduce the capacity by more than 7,000 seats, we can make the district more efficient and restore equity," Ballard said. "We can take the savings generated and invest them back into the classroom, greatly expanding our curriculum and the services offered to all of our students. This is a process that is long overdue."
Ballard will take the public feedback solicited at the forums and make a recommendation to the school board about which plan to follow next month. Project Schoolhouse was initiated last fall with an eye toward allowing the district to optimize its resources for improved academic results in the face of declining state funding for education.
"I believe we have come to the point in Tulsa Public Schools where we really needed to take a look at how we were doing business," Ballard said. "And we need to take a look through a lens other than just enrollment, and we needed to take a look at the impact that a school has on the community."
Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. compared the TPS process to the task that awaited his administration when it took office in December 2009 and found city government in the midst of an unprecedented budget crunch. City officials were forced to adopt a series of budget cuts that sharply reduced or eliminated some city services, though most of those since have been restored.
"Sometimes our greatest thinking comes in times when we have no choice but to act," Bartlett said. "I am hopeful that today will mark a return to greatness for TPS as they offer up these three plans for public consideration. By becoming more efficient, they have the opportunity to create an educational experience that is worthy of the 21st century. We need to do our best for Tulsa's children."
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