Broken Arrow school board adjusts to inflation pressures, calls on state lawmakers for help


By Brittany Harlow, Contributing Writer

The Broken Arrow Board of Education is taking steps to deal with financial challenges being caused by inflation, but school administrators say it’s time for state lawmakers to help find solutions.

Rising costs and district growth are two factors board members and district personnel like BAPS Chief Financial Officer Natalie Eneff are constantly working to balance out.

“We are in a solid position. But again, that will only last so long as inflation continues to kind of wear on and chip away at some of that reserve,” Eneff said. “And so right now we’re weathering it okay, but we do need assistance from the legislature that’s getting ready to convene to address this for school districts because it is a pretty big problem.”

The board approved a motion to increase the district’s general fund operating budget by $2 million Monday night, in part to cover salary increases and additional positions but also to cover increased costs.

Eneff said the district feels the strain most consumers feel with rising costs, but on a much larger scale.

“We’re buying the same kinds of things that go into running a household but we’re running a school district of over 20,000 students and 2,500 employees,” Eneff said. “So, a lot goes into that.”

The board also approved a motion to increase the building fund operating budget by $300,000 to cover the rising cost of supplies and equipment, and a second semester bid for the district’s prime Child Nutrition vendor. The cost for food and disposable products increased from $1.6 million to $1.9 million compared to the first semester.

“We’re having to spend more money and get less,” Eneff said.

Eneff said they were very fortunate to be in a growing district that is able to leverage inflation with district growth -- for now.

“Not only did we grow in student count of 586 students,” Eneff said. “But we also grew in all of our subpopulation groups, meaning our gifted kids, EL, special education, bilingual, free and reduced, all of those numbers increased. Which when you look at the formula and how those kids are weighted in the formula, that means more dollars for the district.”

Eneff said overall their state aid allocation grew by $4.5 million to around $62 million.

“And so when you think about where we were at the beginning of the pandemic, when we saw pretty dramatic shifts in enrollment and a lot of things happening with state revenue and the economy, we were at pretty much an all-time low of $49 million,” Eneff said. “So to be able to rebound in state funding is a very positive thing for the district and really important overall to our financial stability.”

The future of state funding was a little more unknown on Monday as Ryan Walters was officially sworn in as the new State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

“The next four years my focus will ensure we are putting Oklahoma’s students first,” Walters said after he was sworn in. “We will do what is best for the schools, students, parents and teachers. I look forward to working with Governor Stitt, the Legislature and the State Board of Education to empower parents, increase teacher pay, protect girls’ sports and keep the fundamentals of Oklahoma’s educational system at the forefront during my tenure.”

Educators largely supported Walter’s opponent Jena Nelson, due in part to Walters’ support of school vouchers, which allows parents to use public funds for private schools or homeschooling.

It’s an initiative Walters apparently still champions, as the press release from his swearing in highlighted his service as the executive director of Every Kid Counts Oklahoma.

The non-profit coalition is pushing to “allocate a certain amount of per-student funds from the state to be given directly to families via digital accounts”, amongst other state “solutions”.

Eneff said state funding is an important piece to overall district funding.

“There’s definitely a business side of running a school district and unfortunately with inflation and being a non-profit entity we can’t just say, ‘Well, we’re going to raise our prices by $5 to offset inflation,’” Eneff said. “Our funding comes in a very set, specific way to where we’re relying on taxpayer dollars or state funding or federal funding. And so we have to be able to fit our needs within the confines of those budgets.”

As for a potential political hit to state funding, Eneff said they are always planning for different scenarios in the budget no matter who’s in office or what the political climate looks like.

“We’ve been doing this long enough to know that there are ebbs and flows in state funding that are outside of who sits in those seats,” Eneff said. “And so we always have to be prepared with contingency plans and having a strong fund balance to be able to weather those ebbs and flows.”

She said at this point the district is optimistic the new state superintendent wants to work with public school districts to meet the governor’s goal of being a top ten state in education. “So, we look forward to that collaboration,” Eneff said.

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