Stillwater Public School Superintendent Ann Caine fielded questions focusing on buildings, grade alignment, programs and staffing at a public forum hosted by the League of Women Voters Tuesday.
Forum moderators Martha McMillian and Gladeen Allred said public response was strong with 80 questions submitted in advance.
When asked about plans for the building that houses Lincoln Academy, Stillwater’s alternative high school, Caine said administrators looked at operating costs for all buildings and found Lincoln was the most expensive to operate and had the lowest enrollment.
Moving Lincoln students closer to Stillwater High School will give them more chances to take electives, she said.
Some questions focused on the district’s purchase of the former KICKER facility on North Perkins Road and the Cimarron Plaza shopping center, north of Stillwater High School.
Both facilities were bought with restricted funds that can’t be used for teacher salaries or curriculum, Caine said.
The KICKER lease/purchase was the culmination of a two-year process to find better, more secure facilities that would provide space to consolidate a variety of functions and the district got a good deal on it, she said.
The long-range facilities committee wants to develop athletic facilities where Cimarron Plaza is located but that won’t be funded with a bond issue, Caine said.
A private fundraising campaign modeled on Oklahoma State University’s campaign is under development.
Others asked if students would be in portable classrooms when pre-K students move from the Richmond Early Childhood Center.
Caine said Richmond and Sangre Ridge elementary schools have enough room.
A buyer is interested in purchasing the early childhood center for office space, which would help the district’s finances, she said.
Moving ninth-graders from the junior high to the high school prompted questions about facilities and lunch periods.
She assured parents that they’ll have their own lunch period and won’t be allowed to leave campus. They’ll also have their own hallway for core classes.
The school resource officer program was another concern.
The district’s cost for SROs would have increased next year when it began paying 100 percent of their salaries and benefits at a cost of $100,000 each, Caine said.
After seeing a strong negative reaction to eliminating SROs, school officials asked the city to continue its agreement at the current cost for one more year, bringing the price to $25,000 each.
Caine said the district made a mistake talking about eliminating the officers without having a plan to replace them. That won’t happen again.
“Trust me, I will not be crazy enough next year at this time to suggest eliminating SROs,” she said.
Caine said the proposed grade realignment prevents having to build another elementary school.
That saves the district at least $25 million in construction costs and $680,000 in annual operating costs.
She said changes in the state’s funding formula have cut how much the district gets per pupil even as enrollment increased by 600, the equivalent of one elementary school.
If funding had remained stable, the district would be collecting $2.3 million more from the state.
Chief Financial Officer Philip Storm said funding per student in 2014 is $6,263, a decrease of $341 from 2011.
Between $1.5 million -$1.9 million in budget cuts are needed to protect the reserve fund and keep the district operating in the black, which is required by law, Storm and Caine said.
When asked why the district had depleted its reserve account, Caine said it had reached 16 percent two years ago and was at the maximum allowed so the School Board decided to give employees more than their normal step pay increases.
“I would do it again in a minute,” she said. “That does not mean we mismanaged funds; we took care of our people.”
The district won’t be changing the school calendar, Caine said.
Instead, summer school programs will try to stave off what Caine called “summer slide” by offering enrichment classes as well as remediation.
Stillwater High School will stay on a block schedule even though it costs 10 percent more for staffing.
Caine said her top priority will be reducing class sizes if the legislature increases school funding.
She invited everyone who still had questions to email her.
She also said LWV members would be passing along any questions they hadn’t read and the answers will be posted in the FAQ section of the district’s website at www.stillwaterschools.com.