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WICHITA TEACHERS WONDER WHETHER BUDGET IS BEHIND LAYOFFS; DISTRICT SAYS NO

More Wichita teachers than usual have told union leaders they were asked by their schools not to come back next year.

And teachers are suspicious it might have to do with the district's strained budget, United Teachers of Wichita president Larry Landwehr said.

School leaders said the decisions to not to renew their contracts were based on performance and license issues, not the estimated $25 million shortfall the district faces next year.

"If the district has to lay off teachers due to budget concerns it will be through the RIF (reduction in force) process that's in the negotiated agreement, not the non-renewal process," spokeswoman Susan Arensman wrote in an e-mail.

The district won't release whose contracts weren't renewed until the school board sees it, Arensman said.

Landwehr said he still has questions after district leaders told him Wednesday the decisions to not renew teachers' contracts were performance-based and done at the principal's discretion.

"I think this year they took a little better look" at teachers, he said.

Educators are concerned that not renewing the teachers' contracts would hurt their chances of landing another teaching job.

"If it's 'non-renewed,' they wonder why," Landwehr said. On the other hand, if the reason for leaving is reduction in force, "they say, 'poor thing.' "

Most of the teachers notified in the past month had less than three years of experience, and district officials didn't give — and by state law aren't required to give — a reason for not renewing their contracts, Landwehr said.

Looking at how the district paid for the teachers who were let go, though, Landwehr said eliminating those positions wouldn't save the district much money. He said many of them are paid out of funds that aren't being cut significantly by the state.

When telling a teacher his or her contract won't be renewed, school leaders often offer the chance for a teacher to resign instead, Landwehr said.

Some teachers think the resignation will look better to potential employers than the contract not being renewed, he said.

But the resignation might mean less access to unemployment benefits.

Teachers who were notified that their contracts won't be renewed will continue to receive pay and health insurance through the end of this school year's contract.

More teachers could see their contracts not renewed for next year.

By state law, the district needs to notify the teachers by May 1 if their contracts aren't being renewed.

With approval of the state budget being delayed this year, legislators are considering pushing that deadline to May 21, Landwehr said.

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