The Wichita school district’s general fund will increase by about $101 million next year.
Its projected expenses for 2015-16 will be about $4 million more than the previous year’s.
But that isn’t the whole story, district leaders said Monday.
“The accounting is very misleading. … You can’t just look at the bottom-line number – or in this case the top-line number,” board member Lynn Rogers said.
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“We aren’t getting more money under block grants, on anyone’s estimation, if you look at it.”
Board members got their first look Monday at overall projections and line-by-line comparisons for the 2015-16 budget, which they are expected to approve by late August.
The district projects spending nearly $647 million next fiscal year – about $4 million more than last year, said chief financial officer Jim Freeman.
But because of increased fixed costs and “flow-through” expenses, such as retirement payments to teachers, what looks like a budget increase is a decrease in money to classrooms, he said.
“This has been probably one of the most challenging budget developments that I’ve experienced,” Freeman said. “We are learning as we go.”
Freeman said the proposed mill levy increase for Wichita taxpayers may be a bit less than initially projected – 2.828 mills rather than 3.3 mills. Without the increase, he said, the district would have to cut another $4.3 million from its budget.
The increase includes a one-year, 0.42-mill special assessment tax that would pay for about $1 million worth of infrastructure around the new Southeast High School near Pawnee and 127th Street East.
Continued expenses for the $60 million Southeast High, scheduled to open in 2016, and other remaining bond issue projects will leave less in the district’s capital outlay budget for general maintenance and improvements next school year, Freeman told board members.
“Maintaining our buildings will still be taken care of, but some of our wish-list things … will have to be put off for a year,” he said.
The capital outlay budget will decrease by about 29 percent, from $47.3 million to $33.6 million, Freeman said. The district also is budgeting less money for at-risk K-12 programs, vocational education, parent education and bilingual programs.
The district’s budget for professional development will increase by about 50 percent next year, from $1.4 million to nearly $2.2 million. Federal funds are expected to increase, as well as spending on special education, food service, virtual school and pre-kindergarten for at-risk children.
The Wichita district’s spending on the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System will increase by about $7 million next year, according to Freeman’s projections. Under the state’s new block grant funding system, that money will go into the general fund before being distributed to retirees.
The district is projecting about 300 more students this coming school year but no increase in per-pupil funding because block grant funding is based on 2014-15 enrollment figures.
“When they start whooping and hollering ‘Look at this, they’re getting this amount of money,’ it’s not true when you really look at our budget as a whole,” said board member Sheril Logan.
Board members will get a more detailed look at the budget at their next meeting on Aug. 10. A public hearing and final vote likely will be set for Aug. 24.
Two more days off
Also on Monday, the board revised the 2015-16 school calendar to add two days off for students on Sept. 8 and Jan. 15.
The days are part of a proposed contract that Wichita teachers will vote on next month. If teachers ratify the contract, they would get those days off with no reduction in pay. If not, the days would be in-service days for teachers.
Superintendent John Allison urged the board to approve the additional days off so families could plan for them. “We felt it would be important … to communicate that as early as possible,” he said.