Cherokee School Board: High school goes virtual; super warns of possible staff cuts
• Tax protests causing significant financial strain, says Schanbacher
December 16, 2020
The Cherokee Board of Education met Monday, Dec. 14, to hear troubling news. Due to an outbreak of Covid-19 among high school staff, the entire building will be on distance-learning through the rest of the week.
As if that weren't enough, Superintendent Bryce Shanbacher said he's spoken with staff to let them know that, because tax protests have tied up so much of the school's revenue, reductions in staff may well be in the future.
All board members were present: Kory Littlefield, Kurtis Goodwin, Amber Wilhite, Desiree Gibson and Shane Parker.
Elementary Principal Ruth Richmond told the board they were happy to be able to remain in school. An AR party is planned for Thursday, and classroom parties will be Friday morning. A CPR workshop is scheduled for all school district staff on Jan. 4; a technology workshop for teachers, led by teachers who've had the most success with it, is also upcoming.
“We don't have a Christmas program this year,” Richmond said, “so we're planning a little virtual Christmas party for the end of the week.” Plans aren't yet final; keep an eye out for future notices, she advises.
High school principal Jeremy Hickman wasn't able to attend, so Schanbacher gave his report. Basketball season is underway. The high school girls team is 3-0 and the boys are 3-1. The junior high girls are 4-0 and the boys are 3-1. The FFA's recent labor auction was said to be a great success. The speech team and FCCLA are both competing virtually right now, Schanbacher said. Student numbers are increasing slightly.
“I also want to mention that (…) we had a $1,000 donation given by the LaWilda Reitz Foundation,” Schanbacher said. “They're very, very generous every year; they're tremendous supporters. They also donate several coats every year to our kids who need those, so we're very appreciative of them and what they do for our school.”
High School Goes Virtual Through Friday
“We did today make the decision to go virtual for our 6-12th grade students for the remainder of this week,” Schanbacher told the board. “That was not the decision we'd planned on, but our situation with covid in the last day or two has kind of gone up. We've had staff members who've tested positive, so we're trying to get a jump on things and not make things worse over the break. We felt like it was best for all of the staff and students here in this building if we went virutal,” he said.
“We've been very, very fortunate this year not to have to make those decisions that affect a whole building. The elementary, that building, seems to be doing very well. Their staff are healthy.
“But all of our activities – our current policy says that our activities will stop if we decide to (go virtual). We did have some games this week that were scheduled with some other schools and those have all been cancelled. Some of those decisions were made mutually, because some of those schools are in this situation as well,” he said.
“That's one thing I've been impressed with, just the communication between all our school districts all through football season and now into basketball season. I think the schools are really working together to try to get a handle on things and not put each other at risk if it's not necessary.
“But as the numbers go up outside, there's always going to be that risk here. So, we're feeling the effects of that now and we hope all of our staff can get well soon,” he said.
Budget Constraints Mean Belt Tightening
Schanbacher said that in several informal conversations and then another last Thursday, he has been filling staff in on the serious financial strain that the oil companies' tax protests are putting on the school.
The loss of revenue that's tied up in those tax protests “over the last two years has really caught up with us, and is causing us some major financial strain,” Schanbacher said. “When that tax money shows up as monies we should be receiving, that goes into the calculation (for state aid), and even though we're not getting that money because it's held in a tax protest, the state recognizes that as income for us,” he said.
“So there's two sources schools get revenue from, and right now for us those two things are working against each other. We're not being properly funded from either of those sources, and it's causing a lot of problems for us and this has been going on now for two years.
“So I talked with staff last week and explained that we are making every effort that we can, but it does look like before the start of the next school year we are going to have to go through a reduction in force. We're going to make every effort possible to prevent making those cuts and fix some of the short-term problems that we do have but also keep in mind the long-term effect that it's going to have on our school district.
“There are going to be some difficult times ahead and some tough decisions that we will have to make but, as I assured them, they are very resilient. This group of teachers I believe can teach through this situation and Covid and everything else – they show grit and determination and so I know that they will be okay and they will be alright with whatever decisions we have to make. They are one of the best teaching staffs that I've ever been a part of and ever got to work with. But that's where we're at.
“A large amount of our tax monies come in January, so once we have that in I think we'll have a little better idea of where we'll be and what some of our decisions will have to be. There's a lot of schools going through similar situations, and it's just getting tough. Just in general, in Oklahoma right now in education finances are bleak, and we're not immune to that. So we're going to have to be resilient and we will be. We'll do what's best for the school district and everybody involved as we move forward through this situation.
“I hope everyone can have a safe and healthy holiday break, and we'll come back in January and hit the ground running,” he concluded.
Egelston, Fallis Resign; Other Board Business
After a 45-minute executive session to discuss employment-related issues, the board reconvened in open session, and then approved the resignations of Ashley Egelston and Sarah Fallis,
The board also approved a resolution allowing Stephen L. Smith Co. to investigate the financial benefits of possibly refinancing some of the school's lease-purchase debt.
The board also approved the consent agenda, consisting of general, building and child nutrition fund encumbrances, purchase orders and warrants; the treasurer's report and the activity fund report. Schanbacher pointed out for the board the “pretty good increase” in the child nutrition fund, largely due to the federal Seamless Summer enhanced child nutrition reimbursement. Schanbacher said he hopes the funding will continue at the enhanced rate through the school year.
The activity fund is also healthy right now Schanbacher told the board, but that could change in a big way depending on whether Cherokee can hold its basketball tournament. “We rely on that pretty heavily to carry us through the year,” Schanbacher said. “We usually make a good bit of money on our basketball tournament. But we have to limit our capacity at sporting events and assign some tickets – we'll have that once we come back from Christmas break, but that basketball tournament really carries us through,” Schanbacher said.
“Most of our activities, the accounts are healthy,” he continued. “The sponsors are doing a good job fundraising when they need to and being selective about what they purchase. Coach Hickman talked with the coaches and really tried to explain that they need to be self-sufficient as much as they can.”
The complete video of the Dec. 14 Cherokee School Board meeting can be viewed at http://www.alvareviewcourier.com.