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Wichita school board approves $639 million budget, tentative teachers contract

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, August 12, 2013, at 7:35 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, at 2:53 p.m.

The Wichita school board unanimously approved its $639 million budget on Monday after a lengthy presentation by finance officials and no public comment.

The budget, about $11 million more than last year’s, keeps the local property tax rate flat, projects an enrollment increase of 300 students and includes 136 additional full-time equivalent positions.

Those include 22 regular teacher positions, 25.3 special-education employee positions, 13.3 paraeducator positions, 58 teaching positions paid for through federal and grant funds and eight new school administrator positions.

Jim Freeman, the district’s chief financial officer, pointed to several significant increases or decreases in budget categories but noted that many were due to budget “anomalies” or oddities in the way state officials require budgets to be tracked and categorized.

“I can make the data say just about whatever you want it to,” Freeman said.

“This is a very difficult process, and as a newbie on the board and going through all these papers and accounts … I can understand why many of our critics get confused and don’t understand why things are the way they are,” said board member Joy Eakins.

“I think sometimes we can be quick to throw stones at people for not understanding what’s going on. … I’m still not sure that I completely understand it.”

The school board scheduled a public hearing on the budget at the start of Monday’s meeting, but no one spoke.

Also on Monday, the board voted unanimously to accept a tentative teachers contract that was approved earlier in the day by the district’s teachers.

Union officials announced that of the 2,418 votes returned to the United Teachers of Wichita office – about two-thirds of the district’s 4,000 teachers – 88 percent voted to accept the contract.

The agreement amounts to a 2.4 percent increase in total value for teachers, including a one-time, 1 percent salary increase and the elimination of weekly 40-minute Professional Learning Community meetings. Health benefits will remain the same.

The agreement also creates a common set of requirements for lesson plans, allows movement on the longevity schedule and provides for an adjustment in salary based on additional education.

The increase already has been factored into the district’s budget for the 2013-14 school year.

“Both management and the bargaining unit negotiators were able to find a good deal of common ground, even though some members of the Legislature and some of the media would like to portray negotiations differently,” said Randy Mousley, president of the teachers union.

“Negotiations continues to be a time for both sides to share solutions and concerns. We believe this contract will support our students and staff in a positive light this school term.”

The item drew no discussion at Monday’s meeting. It was approved 7-0 as part of the board’s consent agenda.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @suzannetobias.

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