In this week's episode of the Business Intelligence Report, Journal Record editor Russell Ray discusses Oklahoma City Public Schools’ effort to redesign its system, which could include closures and consolidations. Ray also talks about the decrease of fine arts classes available to Oklahoma students across the state.
Richard Bassett: You're listening to the Business Intelligence Report, a weekly conversation about business news in Oklahoma. I'm Richard Bassett. I'm talking with Journal Record editor Russell Ray. Russell, thank you for joining us.
Russell Ray: Hi Richard, it's good to be here.
Bassett: There are a couple of recent stories about education from the Journal record I'd like to discuss today. First, through a project called Pathway to Greatness, Oklahoma City Public Schools are making strides in redesigning their system. What are some of these changes they're considering and why?
Ray: Well, the number of students enrolled in Oklahoma City Public Schools has been decreasing. And as a result school officials say there is a need to reorganize the district to better manage its resources. That could mean consolidating and closing some schools, changing the school district's boundaries, or adjusting the number of grades within a school.
Bassett: Who's involved in this project?
Ray: Well the project has involved several committees composed of teachers, principals, and other stakeholders. It has also included public comment opportunities such as a survey to which twenty-six hundred parents teachers and students and community members responded.
Bassett: So Oklahoma City Public Schools have also partnered with local architectural firm ADG. What's their role and pathway to greatness?
Ray: That's right. ADG is conducting an assessment of the school system's facilities. The assessment looks at the condition of all buildings, their compliance with city codes and other requirements. And how much maintenance has been deferred due to the state's budget crunch. Each building will have a line item list of the costs to bring the buildings up to where they need to be and that could include the cost to replace a building's roof, improve drainage and other improvements.
Bassett: Is there a timeline for when these changes will be implemented?.
Ray: Well after compiling several reports the firm will present district officials with three proposed plans to move forward. Those proposals will be released this month. Several public meetings will be held to discuss the proposals and the times and the dates of those meetings are listed on the school district's website.
Bassett: Moving on now. A recent report from the Oklahoma Policy Institute revealed that due to state budget reductions schools across the state have cut back on how many fine arts classes they offer. What types of classes are we specifically talking about?
Ray: Will these include the obvious such as visual arts and music but also theater dance and debate classes as well.
Bassett: About how many Oklahoma students have been affected by these changes?
Ray: Well the gap between the number of fine arts classes available and the number of students in the state's 520 school districts has widened quite a bit. According to the Oklahoma State Department of Education, more than 18,000 students have no access to fine arts classes at all.
Bassett: Have all districts seen similar cuts?
Ray: Well no, the 18,000 students I just mentioned that have no access to fine arts are from 93 of the state's 520 school districts. According to the report from the Oklahoma Policy Institute, southeast Oklahoma is the least likely to offer fine arts classes to its students. So these cuts are having a bigger impact on the state's poorest regions. Wealthier school districts tend to have more options for supplemental funding. Including funds generated from bond issues to pay for the tools that students need for fine arts.
Bassett: Is it likely that Oklahoma schools will see an increase in fine arts classes in the near future?
Ray: Well it's hard to say but because school districts and local officials have discretion over spending, the only way to increase funding for the arts is to shore up more resources in general.
Bassett: Russell Ray is the editor of the Journal Record newspaper. Russell, thank you for your time.
Ray: My pleasure Richard, thank you.
Bassett: KGOU and the Journal Record collaborate each week on The Business Intelligence Report. You can follow us on social media. We're on Facebook and Twitter @Journal Record and @KGOUnews. Past episodes of The Business Intelligence Report are available on our website, KGOU.org. While you're there you can check out other features and podcasts produced by KGOU. And you can find links to the stories we discussed during this episode at JournalRecord.com
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