Many Wichita school employees, students and families hope an additional $2.6 million in next year's budget may mean their jobs or programs will survive after all.
They'll find out today when superintendent John Allison presents his revised budget plan to the school board.
Allison's initial proposal included a little more than $30 million in cuts, the projected shortfall in state and federal funding for next school year. Last week he told board members the district will get about $2.6 million he hadn't anticipated, including increased reimbursements for Medicaid and special-education services.
Shawn Chastain, the district's executive coordinator of fine arts, said he is "looking at any and all scenarios" for continuing the fifth-grade strings music program, including options proposed by parents last week.
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Some of the suggestions, such as raising the instrument rental fee or contracting with private instructors to teach elementary students, aren't as simple as they seem, he said.
"I think we'd need more research on that," Chastain said. "We would be looking to see: Could that (funding) be sustainable?... That's the challenge with all of this."
The Wichita district keeps an inventory of more than 4,000 musical instruments — not including pianos and percussion pieces — and employs four full-time craftsmen to maintain and repair them. Students who rent instruments from the district pay a $50 annual fee. Students who receive reduced-price lunch pay $25 a year, and students on free lunch pay $15 a year.
Students who participate in sports also pay an annual $50 fee, regardless of the number of sports they play. That fee also is discounted for students who receive free or reduced-price lunch.
The instrument fee pays for instrument maintenance and replacement, Chastain said, but is separate from funds that pay music teacher salaries and other costs associated with the band and orchestra program.
"One of the hallmarks of a successful urban music program is really that access to instruments," he said. The Wichita district's instrumental music program is one of about a dozen in the country with a full-time repair division.
"But that's just one small part of the whole picture," Chastain said.
Allison's initial budget plan called for cutting 278 full-time positions, including 223 teachers; replacing high school librarians with library clerks; and eliminating funding for several popular programs, including elementary orchestra, National Academic League, Parents as Teachers and C-team and sophomore sports.
He also reduced the number of schools that receive Title I funding, decreased the amount of Title I funding schools receive, suggested one furlough day for non-teacher employees and put many bond projects on hold.
Putting $2.6 million back into the budget won't be as simple as reinstating a few programs that total $2.6 million, Allison told board members.
Next year's budget picture hinges on local property valuations, teacher contract negotiations and other factors that could alter what the district brings in or spends. And thanks to a $370 million bond issue voters approved in 2008, five new schools are set to open in the fall of 2012.
Unless lawmakers increase the per-pupil allotment for schools, the Wichita district's budget is likely to be just as bleak or worse next year, Allison told board members.
"I don't want to make any recommendations to replace something that we'll potentially have to cut next year," he said.
Board member Barb Fuller spoke on behalf of high school librarians last week, saying libraries are "the hub of the school" and the cut would likely affect student achievement. Board member Lanora Nolan said she hoped Allison could find a way to scale back some programs instead of eliminating them.
And Lynn Rogers said he would reconsider the proposed furlough day for non-teacher employees — a savings of about $300,000 — if teachers did not also agree to a furlough day.
Few other board members offered input or opinions about the proposed cuts, opting instead to ask Allison to reformulate his proposal and bring it back today.
"I think we could make the same argument for everybody ... strings, math, counselors, kindergarten teachers," said board president Connie Dietz.
"Whatever we do, we are at the point where it hurts, and it hurts deeply."
Tonight's school board agenda includes a proposal to buy textbooks and materials for a new kindergarten reading program.
The program, called Read Well, is being used in Tacoma, Wash., and a number of Florida schools. It is still unclear whether it has been tested in Wichita classrooms or how it was chosen from a myriad of programs aimed at struggling readers.
Denise Seguine, Wichita's chief academic officer, said the total cost for materials and teacher training for the new program will be about $1 million.