TOPEKA — A state efficiency audit of the Winfield and Renwick school districts found several million dollars in potential savings through cutting teaching positions, closing schools and changing high school teaching schedules.
The biggest potential savings for the Winfield district, $1.4 million, could be achieved by closing two schools and reducing space in the district's central office, the audit found. The district requested the audit to help it identify ways to reduce costs without affecting students' education.
The report noted that while closing schools would result in savings, "it's important to keep in mind that closing a school building is one of the most difficult and divisive decisions a school board and community can make, and the impact on the students and community must be taken into account when making such a decision."
Winfield superintendent Marvin Estes said the district knows that having a K-8 school instead of an elementary, intermediate and middle school would be most cost-efficient. But he said combining fifth- and sixth-grades into an intermediate school has boosted test scores.
"We're not willing to change our system that is very beneficial to the students," Estes said, adding that the district is taking the report's suggestions to reorganize its bidding and inventory processes.
The legislative post audit, released last week, also estimated the district could save at least $280,000 by moving the high school from a block schedule to a more traditional schedule.
A similar audit of the Derby school district released in December identified about $1 million in potential savings. The largest cost-saving idea was moving that district's high school from the block schedule to a traditional schedule.
Under a traditional schedule, the audit found the district could fill classes to capacity and teachers would teach seven classes each week instead of the six on the block schedule. Teachers would also lose about half of their daily planning time.
Winfield is already considering changing to a traditional schedule for educational reasons, Estes said.
In the Renwick school district, the audit estimated the district could save $1.6 million by cutting one of the district's K-8 schools and Garden Plain High School.
There are no plans to close schools at this point, Renwick superintendent Dan Peters said.
Like Winfield and Derby, auditors predicted that the Renwick district could save money by moving its high school from a block schedule to a traditional teaching schedule. The change could save the district $288,000, the audit said.
Peters said the district doesn't plan to switch to a traditional schedule because the block scheduling provides more one-on-one time between teacher and student and promotes project-based learning.
"For two years, Garden Plain High School has scored 100 percent proficiency in math and reading," he said. "The results speak for themselves."
The audit process was beneficial, but it focused only on cost efficiencies, Peters said.
"One thing it didn't do was look at what impact it has on student achievement," he said.