It could be another month or more before Wichita families know how long the school year or school day will be this fall.
Superintendent John Allison told school board members on Monday that his staff is still analyzing potential costs of any change to start times. Meanwhile, there’s no word from the Kansas Legislature on a new school finance formula, so funding levels “are a big unknown,” Allison said.
“When we continue to get to this point in the year without any idea what our budget will be … that makes it very, very difficult for us to be able to do the planning we need to do,” he said.
As part of a $3 million budget cut last year, the Wichita district added 30 minutes to each school day and trimmed 15 days from the academic calendar.
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In a recent online survey, 15 percent of respondents said the change had a positive impact on students’ education. A majority of elementary school employees and parents expressed concern about the longer school day, and many suggested modifying start times to end school earlier.
Board member Mike Rodee said the board shouldn’t be too quick to switch the calendar back, because there isn’t enough data to gauge its effect.
“The first year is always the toughest. Any change is tough, because we don’t know what we’re coming into,” Rodee said.
“I’m not prepared to, after one year, say (change the calendar) because some parents are mad,” he said. “Some are happy, so that tells me that we’re not sure. … Less days may be a smarter thing to do. We don’t know.”
Board member Joy Eakins disagreed, saying the longer school days and shorter year have had “a very negative impact” on families and the community as a whole. Her son, a Wichita middle school student, has had more homework – including over winter and spring break – because of the reduction in school days, Eakins said.
Many elementary students don’t get home until 5:30 p.m. or later. “I don’t think that fits our community values, personally,” she said.
Allison said he may not return to the board with a formal recommendation on the school calendar and start times until May or later.
The board voted unanimously on Monday to list five surplus school buildings for sale by auction or private treaty, as well as about 17 acres of land near Jackson Elementary at 29th Street North and Woodlawn.
Board members also approved a plan to establish more STEM magnet schools and apply for federal grant money to boost programs. One of the schools, Gordon Parks Academy, plans to drop its International Baccalaureate program and become a STEM and media arts magnet.