Stillwater parents, students and staff will have the opportunity to ask specific questions concerning the Stillwater Public Schools budget Tuesday.
The Stillwater League of Women Voters will host a public forum from 7-8:30 p.m. at the Stillwater Community Center at 315 W. Eighth Ave.
The district agreed to participate in the forum after receiving requests from some parents to address further questions about the state of the district’s budget.
“There’s a bunch of parents and people from the community who were concerned about some of the budget cuts,” said parent Marty High. “We got together as a group to talk about what we could do to help the school district, and out of those group discussions the idea came out about having a forum.”
High and his wife were two of the parents from the group who suggested the forum idea to Superintendent Ann Caine.
“I thought that was a great idea because I answer those questions all the time,” Caine said. “We have those frequently asked questions on our website, but I know that sometimes people appreciate face-to-face. I hope this helps clarify for people how the process worked, how our committee came up with the list and just talk about school funding.”
Concerns arose about the district’s budget in March when administration announced that SPS would cut $1.9 million from its operating budget for the 2014-2015 school year.
“There’s a lot of information out there about how things are done,” High said. “We thought the first thing to do is to understand better where the school district is coming from and what the situation is.”
Some changes have been made to the administration’s original budgeting plan since it was proposed.
The district decided to keep the block schedule at Stillwater High School after compromising on a recommendation from high school teachers. Six certified teaching positions would still be eliminated from the school.
“We’re not laying anybody off,” Caine said. “We’re placing them [teachers] throughout the district. We’re just eliminating positions.”
The original proposal estimated a savings of $300,000 to the district by removing the block schedule.
The district also decided to renew its contract with the city of Stillwater to finance its school resource officer (SRO) program after questions rose about student safety should the program have been terminated.
Despite these changes, one parent said she is still concerned about the future of the SRO program.
“Dr. Caine in her email to all of the parents has made it very known that this is only a one-year contract,” said Mitsi Andrews. “I anticipate that we’re going to turn around in eight to 10 months and have to go through this all again.”
Andrews said many of her submitted questions are about budget issues and the need for greater transparency and accountability from administration.
“I don’t know how in detail she [Caine] is going to get,” Andrews said. “From what I understand she’s not been given any of these questions ahead of time. I’m not even really sure how much of the information we’re actually going to get on Tuesday.”
Caine said she was given the option to see the questions before the forum but declined.
“I answer questions all the time when I’m out speaking to civic groups or to our school faculty meetings,” Caine said. “I know the league will be reading all of them to make sure that we’re not being repetitive. It’ll be interesting to see what comes out.”
Another parent said she hopes her question is answered about why the district did not prepare for budget cuts when it knew they were coming.
“We’re going to ask why they didn’t take that into account and get ready for it each year instead of saving it all up,” said Shelley Mitchell. “Why have they decided to keep adding positions at the administration building while cutting teachers’ spots? That directly affects the kids.”
Andrews said she thinks the administration agreed to do the forum because it realized it was exhausting its efforts when only speaking individually with parents.
“This is beyond a situation that it’s OK just to meet one-on-one with parents,” Andrews said. “This is something that is affecting the entire district. They’re wasting a lot of time and not getting out information as a whole.”
Those interested in asking questions can anonymously submit them at the forum or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.