Wichita school board reviews layoff guidelines

Wichita school board members Monday night reviewed the processes for laying off teachers, administrators and staff as they braced for an estimated $25 million budget shortfall next school year.

In the wake of aircraft industry layoffs, the school district has become the third largest employer in Wichita with about 7,000 employees.

"You see all these incentives being given to employers," board member Betty Arnold said, referring to state tax breaks to businesses. "The district is an employer. Where is our incentive?"

The board approved an updated version of layoff procedures for administrators, including allowing them to continue in the early retirement program if they come back to the district within two years.

When it needs to cut jobs, the district first leaves any open positions unfilled. If deeper cuts are needed, it reduces the number of employees within work groups — anything from principals to music teachers to custodians — choosing first those who are on probation or have the least seniority.

"It saddens me that we're looking at this at all," board member Lynn Rogers said.

The district has cut about $25 million from its $620 million budget since January 2009. School leaders said an additional shortfall would cut directly into positions and salaries, which make up about 80 percent of the budget.

Any change to the teacher layoff policy would have to be negotiated with the United Teachers of Wichita, the union that represents the district's roughly 4,000 teachers.

The layoff process for teachers puts those with less than three years experience, regardless of quality, among the first on the chopping block. At the start of Monday's meeting, teachers who are considered among the best in the district, including two first-year teachers, were recognized by the board.

"We were recognizing first-year (teachers) for such a quality performance, and I get very concerned when we are saying that it could possibly be the teacher we would look at before one that's on a disciplinary plan," Arnold said.

Board members also heard preliminary results from a pair of forums last week at which the public ranked what school programs are most important.

Music and technology were the most valued programs among about the 950 people who participated.

Small class sizes, libraries and latchkey and after-school programs ranked high at the elementary school and middle school levels. Advanced and gifted courses, along with alternative programs that help struggling and at-risk students, were most highly valued at the middle school and high school levels.

District officials are also asking school staff and site councils to rank programs they most value, and those should be finished by the end of the week.

A group of high school students who help advise the superintendent ranked athletics as their highest value in a meeting last week. College career counselors were also important to the students.