Blackwell Schools set to lose 40 students; Middle School loses Principal

by Jordan Green

Students at Blackwell Elementary School will not have to be moved to different school sites in order to come into compliance with the state fire marshal, but additional classrooms may have to be added in the future in order to meet classroom size requirements set forth by the Oklahoma State Department of Education, Superintendent Rick Riggs announced at Monday night’s meeting of the Blackwell Board of Education.

The latest update from the fire marshal's office comes as a relief to district leaders, who suggested that another bond issue would have to be passed in order to add classrooms at the school. At last month's board meeting, Riggs announced that the state fire marshal had informed the school district that BES may be over capacity. That information from the fire marshal came just weeks after a measure to move the district's fifth grade students from BES to Blackwell Middle School was shot down by the board.

The total occupancy limit of BES is 740, but there are only enough classrooms to hold 713 students, said Blackwell Fire Chief Cory Hanebrink. Students may only be kept in areas that are designated as classrooms, so as long as there are no more than 713 students in classroom, the school is in compliance with the fire marshal. According to documents obtained by the Journal-Tribune in May, 619 students are currently enrolled at BES.

But even though the school is in compliance with the state fire marshal, the district may not be “off the hook” in terms of classroom occupancy.

Under Oklahoma state law, the maximum number of students that can legally be in a classroom is 20. That law was established by House Bill 1017, which was passed in 1990. Since 2010, the law has been waived annually by the Oklahoma State Legislature, allowing cash-crunched districts to consolidate classrooms in order to avoid paying additional teacher salaries. But those waivers – at least in their current form – will expire after the 2019 – 2020 school year.

This year, the Oklahoma State Legislature passed Senate Bill 193, which serves as the waiver of House Bill 1017 for the upcoming school year. For the 2019 – 2020 school year, districts will still not have to meet the 20-student limit – but they will in the future.

“Senate Bill 193 is a waiver. It says that they are waiving it this year for everybody, but it also says in there that it goes back to first grade and down in 2021,” Riggs said. “Going forward, if [the state] makes us go back to House Bill 1017 numbers, those classes will have to be 20 or below. So, we're going to have to figure out whether we're going to do a bond issue or how [the district] is going to address that. … If you read the legislation … [lawmakers] are planning to 'waterfall' those [classes] back to 1017 numbers,” said Riggs.

Riggs said that district officials currently “have a plan” to “get all of [the students] in there,” but he said that could change if the district receives an influx of elementary-level students.

“I don't have a crystal ball. If we have a whole bunch of Kindergarteners show up and a whole bunch of first graders, we may have another issue. But they think, the way it sits right now, they can get them all in there for a year,” Riggs said. “But they're going to have to address it going forward because [the state] isn't going to allow you to have more than 20 in those other classrooms.”


Blackwell Public Schools could lose up to 40 students in the next school year, according to documents obtained from the school district at Monday's meeting.

For the 2019 – 2020 school year, 40 students have applied to transfer out of the district, and a measure approved by the board Monday night gives those students the legal ability to transfer out of the district if they choose to do so. But in spite of the high number of applications to transfer, Riggs suggested that not all of the students will end up leaving.

“We've got a list of kids that applied,” Riggs said. “They do it early so they're eligible to go, but that doesn't mean they're going to go. They've got a time period to tell the district towards the end of July whether they're coming or not. Some of those guys, from what we've been told, applied so they could go if they needed to, but they don't need to, so they have the option to stay here. There is a significant number of kids that applied that way.”

The Journal-Tribune evaluated the list of transfer requests to see which area school districts might receive students from Blackwell. Of the 40 students who applied to transfer out of Blackwell,the greatest number of students – 24 – applied to go to Peckham Public Schools. Eleven students applied to go to Tonkawa Public Schools, four applied to go to Ponca City Public Schools, and one applied to go to Medford Public Schools.

While the district could lose nearly 40 students, it may gain a few. Six students have applied to transfer into the district. Five of those students have applied to transfer in from Newkirk Public Schools, and one has applied to transfer in from Kildare Public Schools.


Blackwell Middle School will have a new principal for the upcoming school year.

Becky Miller, the school's current vice principal, will be promoted to the position of principal.

Riggs said that Jaime Burtner, the school's former principal, has been moved back to the district's central office. She will coordinate teacher development programs and work with the district's Title 1 program. Riggs said it “has yet to be determined” whether Burtner will still be a basketball coach with the district.

Burtner will no longer be paid as a principal, Riggs said.

Riggs also said he is unsure at this time whether BMS will have a vice principal for the upcoming year.