March 29, 2011

Wichita district plans 65-70 job cuts

Wichita school leaders say they plan to cut between 65 and 70 jobs in the next round of budget cuts as the district looks to trim $30 million from next year's budget.

Wichita school leaders say they plan to cut between 65 and 70 jobs in the next round of budget cuts as the district looks to trim $30 million from next year's budget.

Superintendent John Allison presented his "phase two" recommendations to school board members Monday.

It is unclear which positions will be eliminated. Allison said they likely will be "central level support areas" that could affect classrooms, but he wants to talk with employees whose jobs may be cut before sharing details publicly.

The second phase of cuts, which total about $13 million, includes $7.6 million in cuts from discretionary reserve funds and similar areas of the budget, such as trusts, Allison said.

He also proposed cutting $3.6 million from the district's Title 1 funds, which are designated to provide services to the district's neediest students at high-poverty schools.

About a third of the anticipated $30 million shortfall in next year's budget will come from Title 1 programs because of a loss of federal stimulus dollars, Allison said.

"It's been difficult up to this point," Allison said. "It's going to be more difficult as we move forward."

He said he plans to present details on the phase two recommendations at a board meeting April 11. Another $16 million in cuts will be proposed by district officials and community members in April and May, Allison said.

"When you're talking $16 million, you're beyond being able to say, 'We won't buy paper for a year,' or 'Cut a little here and a little there.' ... It can't happen," Allison said. "Every area is going to feel an impact."

Earlier this year the board put some construction projects on hold, including new schools and renovations proposed as part of a $370 million bond issue approved in 2008. Leaders also approved: ending leases at the Midtown Community Resource Center and the Workforce Alliance; changing start times at several early-start magnet schools; and imposing a one-day furlough for nonteaching staff.

Allison said those measures, combined with Monday's recommendations, make up less than half of the estimated budget shortfall. He said impending cuts likely will affect programs and services, but so far he has not said what might be cut.

As more cuts are proposed, students and families "will begin to notice things at the building level," said board president Connie Dietz.

"The cuts will go deeper and deeper and deeper," she said. "We are not an organization that's flush with people."

In other business Monday, board members unanimously approved a $2 million contract with Descon Inc. for an addition and updates to Peterson Elementary School in west Wichita.

The project, part of the 2008 bond issue plan, calls for a new multipurpose room that will double as a storm shelter, two new music rooms, connecting hallways and a parking lot.

The board also voted unanimously, without discussion, to buy property at 1630 N. Arkansas for expanded outdoor athletic facilities at North High School.

The district will pay $67,500 for the property, plus about $2,500 in closing costs and $1,600 in moving costs.

Martin Libhart, chief operating officer for the district, said plans call for a turf football field, track, a practice soccer field, two ball diamonds and tennis courts.

"Ultimately, more land will need to be acquired," Libhart said. "This property has been on the market and represents a step in the process of acquiring land over time to accomplish our goal."

In December, the board approved a $2 million deal to purchase property at 13th and Waco — the former site of a Dillons grocery store — to expand the North High campus. Officials said there were no immediate plans for that property, but they are considering a proposal to renovate the building and use it for technical education programs.

Allison said some people will likely criticize the board for spending any money, such as for facility improvements or new literacy programs, during a budget crisis.

The pending shortfall "doesn't mean we're rolling up the sidewalks and going home," he said. "We still have a commitment to our students to provide the best education possible."

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