Proposed Wichita school district budget keeps tax rate flat, adds teachers

03/11/2013 1:48 PM

08/05/2014 8:28 PM

The Wichita school district will propose keeping the local property tax rate flat for the fourth consecutive year, according to a budget overview presented by Superintendent John Allison on Monday.

The district’s $628 million budget for 2012-13 — about $22 million more than the previous year’s — includes an increase in teaching positions that would be funded largely with increases in state and federal education funding.

“We’ve stayed focused on the classrooms,” Allison said.

“As we look at where we need to go from a student achievement standpoint, we know that that’s a top priority for Wichita public schools, and our budget is clearly focused on teachers and other direct support personnel.”

The big unknown that still could affect the district’s budget is whether its more than 4,000 teachers will get a raise this year.

Negotiating teams for the district and the local teachers union met with a federal mediator for about three hours Monday morning, officials said, but so far have not reached a tentative agreement.

A tentative contract with service workers, reached earlier this month, will cost the district about $2.8 million in additional salaries and benefits, officials said.

Allison has proposed adding more than 60 full-time positions for the coming year, including about 35 teachers.

New hires will be focused primarily on bilingual and special-education students, he said, because that is where the district is seeing its most immediate need.

The new positions include 15 bilingual teachers, 12 special-education teachers, eight regular-education teachers, 23 to 25 special-education paraprofessionals, six food service workers, three custodians and one building administrator.

Even so, the district will be down more than 200 employees since 2009, Allison said. Over the past four years, as state per-pupil funding decreased, the district cut those jobs through layoffs, retirements and attrition.

“We’re still at 2001 funding levels,” Allison said, “If only our costs were at 2001.”

Wichita schools’ enrollment remains strong, at more than 50,000 students — up about 1,100 over the past decade. The district educates half the schoolchildren in Sedgwick County and about 10 percent of those in the state.

About $100 million of the district’s total budget is spent on special education. A special-ed student “costs about three times as much to educate” as a regular-education student, Allison said.

Board members are expected to get a more detailed look at next year’s budget sometime next week, Allison said, and it will be posted on the district’s website.

The board is expected to tentatively approve the budget at its Aug. 13 meeting. A public hearing and final vote are scheduled for Aug. 27.

Also on Monday, Allison told board members that “there’s far more unknown than known” about how the state’s recently accepted waiver from some provisions of No Child Left Behind will affect Wichita schools.

Kansas education officials learned last week that the U.S. Department of Education approved its waiver request.

“At this point in time there’s very, very little detail about some of the aspects of this,” Allison said. District officials still are sifting through the 358-page document and will learn more from state education officials next week.

“I hate to say we just don’t know, but we don’t,” Allison said. “There will absolutely be change. This is going to be a significant shift.”

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