Another landmark ruling on school funding could mean millions for Wichita schools, but district leaders cautioned Thursday that it’s unclear when or how that boost would happen.
“At this point in time, no one knows,” superintendent John Allison said during a news conference at district headquarters.
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“The work of the Legislature needs to move forward, and we’ll have to see what they put together.”
Wichita, the state’s largest school district, with about 50,000 students, stands to gain the most from a new school finance formula, particularly if lawmakers pump in more money for poor and at-risk students.
Over the past several years, the district has increased class sizes, eliminated jobs, cut programs and stalled teacher pay to deal with escalating costs that have happened with little to no increases in funding, Allison said.
That budget picture isn’t likely to change this year, even after the Kansas Supreme Court ruled in the district’s favor.
“This budget is going to be as difficult as any that we’ve ever had, because the conversation that will occur in Topeka is going to take awhile,” Allison said.
“Sadly, this is where we’ve been for a number of years – continually, in the spring, looking at what our cut targets are and not really knowing what finance will look like.”
The district has postponed adopting new textbooks and technology because of tighter budgets, Allison said. Building maintenance and repairs also have taken a hit. And schools have reduced the number of counselors, social workers and other support staff.
“That’s been difficult. … Those are critical areas,” he said.
Susan Willis, chief financial officer for Wichita schools, has called this year’s budget picture “a perfect storm of unknowns.”
District officials have delayed approval of next year’s academic calendar while they gather feedback about a controversial switch to longer school days. If officials propose adding 15 school days back into the calendar for the 2017-18 school year, they would have to find about $3 million in savings elsewhere.
Board president Sheril Logan said Thursday’s ruling was “good news for Kansas kids.”
“New resources could very definitely make a difference,” Logan said. “The Legislature must take this ruling seriously. It has to find a way to fund education that is adequate.”
Lynn Rogers, a Wichita school board member who also serves in the Kansas Legislature, said during the news conference that lawmakers should be able to craft a new funding formula before the court’s June 30 deadline. But it won’t be easy, he said.
“We must stop denying reality … and we need to work together to solve this,” Rogers said. “We really cannot shortchange another generation of kids.”
Rogers said he hopes the ruling conveys a strong message to his colleagues in the Statehouse.
“Our kids have been receiving an inadequate education, and that’s not because our teachers haven’t been working hard or our kids haven’t been performing,” he said.
“But they have not gotten the resources they need to get the education that we want and need for the 21st century.”