MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

February 20, 2010

Oklahoma School for the Blind faces budget cuts

Equipment, book costs much higher for OSB

With the state fifth- and eighth-grade writing test less than two weeks away, Oklahoma School for the Blind middle school teacher Whitney Gamble keeps her students busy and focused.

“We’ve been working on this every day of the week for the past six weeks,” Gamble said as one student reviewed test requirements punched in Braille and another worked with a large print computer program.

Oklahoma School for the Blind and Oklahoma School for the Deaf in Sulphur must meet the same state performance standards and follow the same state curriculum as any public school in Oklahoma. Both are accredited by the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

However, as part of the Department of Rehabilitation Services, the schools are not funded, governed or managed the same way as locally-operated public schools are. Plus, since they rely on an ever-tightening state budget, the two schools face their own funding crises that could reach even deeper than those affecting locally-operated public schools.

Interim OSB Superintendent Larry Hawkins recently told parents that the school faces a 10 percent cut in state funding for the rest of the school year. One result of the cut is that the school will not fill six staff vacancies: Housekeeper, licensed practical nurse, material management specialist and three direct care specialists.

“So far, the cuts have not affected students directly,” said Hawkins, who also is superintendent at Oklahoma School for the Deaf. “As far as supplies are concerned, we are not affected so much.”

However, he said the school cannot afford to buy desperately-needed new textbooks in Braille. Braille versions of textbooks could cost from $600 to $1,300 compared to $30 to $60 for regular textbooks.

Department of Rehabilitation Services spokesman Jody Harlan said both OSB and the School for the Deaf are having to cut costs.

“Both schools continue to cut administrative costs and reduce expenses by leaving staff positions vacant, severely reducing travel and postponing one-time administrative purchases,” Harlan said.

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