School cuts laid out

72 jobs, program funds targeted

04/08/2011 12:00 AM

08/05/2014 2:20 PM

Editor's note: The total savings of eliminating longevity gifts and the printed employee directory has been corrected. It was incorrect in a previous version of this article.

The Wichita school district will cut its funding for the Parents as Teachers program and the National Academic League as part of its phase two budget cuts, officials said Thursday.

The district also is eliminating 72 positions as it looks to cut $30 million from next year's $630 million budget.

"That's the sad part about where we are," superintendent John Allison said at a news conference Thursday. "There won't be anything that (will) be unscathed."

The district also is offering an early retirement incentive that includes a one-year waiver of health insurance premiums. Up to 200 employees who meet certain age and experience guidelines can get the package if they retire at the end of this school year.

So far the district is about halfway to its budget-cutting goal, Allison said. The next phase will happen at the school building level and likely will affect more people and programs.

"This is tough on our employees," Allison said. "All these positions will have an impact across our buildings."

Of the 72 positions eliminated so far, most are from the district's learning services department. They include instructional coaches, family engagement program workers, curriculum support and library media services.

Two central office administrative positions were eliminated, as well as jobs in human resources, financial services, safety services and legal services.

A $1.6 million reduction in technology spending will mean "limited purchases based on school need" next school year, Allison said.

"I know that the level of stress and concern about the future is significant across the district," Allison said in an e-mail to district employees Thursday.

"I wish I had the easy answers that could put everyone's fears to rest. However, there is nothing easy about these conversations."

The school board is expected to pass its final budget this summer.

Hilary Koehn, program coordinator for Parents as Teachers, said the $465,000 cut announced Thursday is half of the early childhood program's total budget. Parents as Teachers also receives state funding, which could be in jeopardy depending on what happens this session in the Kansas Legislature.

"Right now we're looking at other options for funding sources," Koehn said. "We won't know a lot" about possible cuts in services until next week, she said.

Parents as Teachers serves about 2,000 families with playgroups, home visits, parenting classes and special events.

National Academic League, a question-and-answer competition for middle school students, lost its entire $42,000 budget with Thursday's cuts. Supporters say they plan to apply for grants and seek corporate sponsors.

"I don't quit easily," said Col. Robert Hester, who oversees the district's program. "We've been told to try to find funding from private sources, and that's what I'm going to do. My goal is to keep it alive."

About 400 schools from more than a dozen districts nationwide — including 15 in Wichita — participate in National Academic League. Wichita schools play a regular season of seven games.

The district money pays for transportation costs, officials' pay, national entry fees and equipment such as test questions and score cards, Hester said.

Gary Mitchell, the National Academic League coach at Wilbur Middle School, said students and parents have been worried about possible cuts since last school year, when the season was reduced by two games to save money.

"I think it's a very valuable program," said Mitchell, the school's librarian. "Any after-school program helps connect kids to school. This teaches academics and, just as importantly, it teaches teamwork. "

Another small but noticeable cut announced Thursday: no more "longevity gifts."

Until now, employees have received tokens of appreciation imprinted with the district logo to recognize their years of service — a key chain for 10 years, a perpetual calendar for 20, a desk clock or binoculars for 30, a leather duffel bag or biscuit jar for 40.

"We've done a very good job at getting great discounts on items," said spokeswoman Susan Arensman.

Eliminating longevity gifts and the printed employee directory will save $10,000.

Allison will present more details on the phase two cuts at Monday's school board meeting, he said. He expects to have recommendations for the remaining $16 million in cuts to board members by early May.

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