Thursday, August 10, 2017

State Faces More Budget Problems; Sallisaw Schools ‘Hold Steady’

The Oklahoma Supreme Court Thursday unanimously ruled that Senate Bill 845 is unconstitutional.

SB845 was projected to raise more than $200 million for the current state budget by charging cigarette wholesalers a $1.50 per pack tax.

The court’s ruling will likely prompt a special session, costing the state an additional $30,000 per day, and requiring lawmakers to return to the capitol to fix the now incomplete budget.

Gov. Mary Fallin said, “I am disappointed to hear the Supreme Court struck down the smoking cessation fee, but I certainly respect the justices’ authority. I will be discussing with legislative leaders from both parties the need to address the $215 million shortfall this will create for the Department of Human Services, the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the three agencies that received the bulk of the money that was to be generated by the cessation fee.”

State legislators and the governor are not the only ones disappointed.

Sallisaw School Superintendent Scott Farmer said this week that school systems are counting on the economic support of three state measures, one of which was SB 845, but that all three are being litigated in court.

“We have a fragile budget,” Farmer said. “Three court cases, one of which is the cigarette tax, are in litigation. If those three revenue streams are taking off the table, we (the school system) will lose more money.”

Farmer said the Sallisaw School System is holding its own financially this year. The 2017-18 school year began Thursday.

“We are trying not to cut programs this year,” Farmer said. “Our teachers have been a big help. We especially want to provide college opportunities for our kids while they are in high school.”

Farmer said the school system’s budget has been gradually reduced every year since 2009, and the reductions have added up.

“It’s down nearly $1 million since 2009,” Farmer said. “But we are trying to hold steady.”

Farmer said class sizes are remaining steady, with about 20 children per class at the elementary level and high school teachers teaching about 140 students a day or about 25 per class.

But, the amount of money spent per student continues to decline, and in 2014 it was reported that New York State spent the most per student, at over $20,000, while Oklahoma was number 48 on the list, at almost $8,000. That amount includes everything from teachers’ salaries to the cost of heating buildings.

“Unfortunately, the trend will most likely continue this year,” Farmer said.

Still, Farmer said good teaching will continue in the Sallisaw School District because of the good teachers, “who go out of their way for their students.”

Farmer concluded, “We are excited about the new year.”

Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director

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