Driver's ed, 117 jobs among Wichita school district cuts

Another round of proposed budget cuts for Wichita schools includes 117 jobs and the elimination of driver’s education at all high schools, officials announced Thursday.

“We’ve reached the point that there is no way we are not impacting the classroom, both directly and indirectly,” said superintendent John Allison.

“This is one of those conversations as a superintendent or CEO you hope to never have to have. . . . It’s been a tough couple of days.”

The proposed cuts, which Allison plans to present to the Wichita school board Monday, would save about $7.5 million. They include:

* Eliminating all elementary jobshare positions. Currently, 56 teachers share 28 classroom teaching jobs at elementary schools. The teachers will have the chance to apply for those 28 jobs or other vacancies.

* Eliminating the driver’s education program, which serves about 1,500 students a year. Driver’s ed teachers certified in other areas can apply for other positions.

* Cutting 44 positions from the learning services department, which includes curriculum specialists and learning coaches.

* Increasing student fees by 5 percent.

* Switching summer school programs — excluding latchkey — to four 10-hour days, Monday to Thursday.

* Reducing custodial support staff — those who cover custodial absences — by 55 percent.

* Eliminating one of two assistant superintendents for elementary schools. Greg Rasmussen has left to become superintendent in Middletown, Ohio.

* Cutting jobs in other departments, including human resources, marketing and communications, facilities, financial services and technology. “These (cuts) mark another significant reduction to our budget,” Allison said. “They impact many people’s lives, and their families’ lives.”

Officials already have proposed $7.7 million in cuts, including closing Metro-Midtown Alternative High School, changing bell times at eight schools to consolidate bus routes and postponing the purchase of new textbooks and technology.

The cuts announced Thursday bring the district’s total savings to about $14.3 million, slightly more than half of the estimated $25æmillion budget shortfall.

“We’re going to continue to move forward,” Allison said, “because we’ve got another $10 million to go.”

Larry Landwehr, president of the United Teachers of Wichita, said cuts “will only get harder” as they reach into classrooms and affect people’s livelihoods.

“We don’t like to see cuts anywhere,” Landwehr said. “They’ve pledged to try to keep it away from the classroom. But any position that helps teachers become better at what they do, obviously that’s going to affect the students.”

Allison said leaders will continue to look for cost savings. The district won’t know exactly how much needs to be cut until state legislators pass a budget, which has been delayed until at least May.

“We’re truly looking at every place we can squeeze dollars,” he said. “We knew we would eventually get to people, and that’s where we are today.”

Eliminating driver’s education comes about a year after the state decreased funding for the program. The Wichita school district then increased the amount students pay for driver’s education from $108 to $216.

About 80 percent of Kansas teenagers take driver’s education classes, and three-quarters of those take the classes through a high school. Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch pay a reduced rate for driver’s ed.

The district hopes to save more than $1.1 million by eliminating the program. If the cuts are approved, schoolbased driver’s education would end at the conclusion of this year’s summer session.

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