The Wichita school district is considering dozens of potential budget cuts, including reducing the number of school nurses, librarians and counselors; eliminating all-day kindergarten; cutting athletics and fine arts programs; privatizing custodial services; and moving to a four-day school week.
“Unfortunately, very little about the conversation we’re going to be starting this evening is good for our students, our parents or our community,” superintendent John Allison told school board members during a budget workshop Monday.
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“We said from the beginning of our budget discussions this year that we must put everything on the table.”
Jim Freeman, chief financial officer for Wichita schools, presented the board with a list of 38 potential cuts in three areas: nonpersonnel, programs/personnel and school closings.
According to Freeman’s projections for the 2017 fiscal year, which begins in July, estimated cost increases for Wichita schools – the state’s largest district – will range from $16 million to $30 million. Revenue is expected to be flat under the state’s new block grant funding system. The district’s current total budget is $648 million.
Monday was the board’s first look at specific potential cuts. The list was expansive and board members’ expressions grim.
On the list
Freeman said his staff still is determining potential cost savings for some of the cuts. The list includes:
▪ Outsourcing custodial services, which would eliminate 298 jobs
▪ Reducing the districtwide teaching staff by 90 positions – about one teacher per school – to save about $5.4 million
▪ Reducing or eliminating some athletics or fine arts programs or special programs such as International Baccalaureate, AVID, JROTC and Parents as Teachers
▪ Reducing the number of buses, which could mean changing start times at some schools or changing busing policies for magnet schools
▪ Reducing the number of or eliminating school nurses, counselors, librarians, athletic coordinators, school resource officers, data leaders, instructional coaches and other positions
▪ Moving to a four-day school week
▪ Returning to half-day kindergarten and eliminating pre-kindergarten programs for students who don’t qualify for special education
▪ Consolidating the district’s alternative high schools and outsourcing educational services at the Juvenile Detention Facility
▪ Closing the district’s smallest elementary schools – an option Freeman said would take at least another year to analyze
Freeman said district administrators and building principals once again will submit budgets that cut 10 percent from nonpersonnel areas, such as supplies, equipment and contracted services. Expected cost savings from that directive: about $5 million, he said.
The district also will try to further reduce utility costs by setting thermostats higher in the summer and lower in the winter.
Board members asked questions about some options and expressed concern or outright opposition to others.
Several said they didn’t want to consider eliminating all-day kindergarten – even though state funding pays for only half-day kindergarten – because early education has been shown to benefit students down the line.
“These are all terrible options,” said board member Lynn Rogers.
“But every school district in the state is going through this,” he said. “If they don’t look at these cuts this year, they will soon.”
Other proposals include reducing substitute teacher costs by limiting the time teachers are pulled out of class for professional development; eliminating “team time” in middle schools, which would reduce the number of teachers needed; and reducing or eliminating nonclassroom duty assignments for high school teachers.
Board member Sheril Logan thanked Freeman for the presentation but said she needs more information about potential cost savings and consequences before deciding how to proceed.
“None of us are happy,” Logan said. “I’m walking away with my stomach in a knot tonight because this is not where I want to be for this district. … Any cut on this list hurts.”
‘Pay my taxes’
Board member Mike Rodee, a small-business owner who said his business benefits under Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax plan, said Monday that he would “gladly pay my taxes” if it meant more funding for schools.
“I’m willing to challenge the rest of the small-business owners out there: Talk to the governor and say, ‘Enough’s enough. I’ll pay my taxes,’ ” Rodee said.
“I think it’s time that Kansas wakes up and says, ‘Let’s get our kids educated.’ ”
Allison, the superintendent, said building principals and others would dig into the list of potential budget cuts in coming weeks and share feedback on how each proposal would affect students.