School board votes to cut 117 positions

The Wichita school board voted Monday night to go ahead with cutting 117 positions as the district anticipates a $25 million shortfall next school year.

The cuts include all 14 of the district's driver's education teachers and 44 curriculum and support positions.

"I've never been through anything like this in my years on board," board vice president Connie Dietz said. "We will do what we have to do."

Eliminating the positions doesn't necessarily mean that many people will lose jobs, superintendent John Allison said. Many of the positions were already vacant because of a hiring freeze, and he said several employees will have the opportunity to fill other full-time vacancies.

State School Board member Dave Dennis, in an attempt to save at least one of those jobs, announced at Monday's meeting that he will retire from his job at North High School.

"I plan to retire after this school year so we can save one of our professional teachers," said Dennis, a data leader who analyzes test scores and graduation rates at the high school.

"I know you are going to make some very tough decisions. I will be there to help make them."

Dennis was one of several people who spoke about the impact the cuts will have on them and the students they serve.

Driver's education teachers shared their passion for promoting safety and their concern that eliminating the program would put a driver's license out of reach for low-income students, who take the course at discounted rates.

"I'm not speaking for my job," said Rick Curless, a driver's ed teacher at West High School for 18 years. "In the West High mission statement, it says we give opportunities to students to be a productive member of society. To be that productive member, they drive to jobs, to activities."

Allison outlined to board members $7.5 million in cuts announced last week, including the job cuts, changing summer school to four 10-hour days and closing Metro-Midtown Alternative High School.

"I don't want to see one single child fall through the crack of that closing," board member Lanora Nolan said.

Metro-Midtown students will have a choice to attend one of the district's other two alternative high schools, but district leaders said they won't be able to sustain the same number of alternative high school students without increasing the small class sizes.

"It's what we're forced to do," Allison said. "There's no getting around it when we're talking $34 million in cuts in 18 months and $25 million the next year."

District leaders already have proposed $6.7 million in cuts that include changing bell times at eight schools to consolidate bus routes, a districtwide building shutdown in the winter and prolonging the purchase of textbooks and technology.

This brings the total of proposed cuts to roughly $14.3 million. Most of the cuts will be voted on officially in August, when the school board votes on whether to approve the budget for the next school year.

That leaves almost $11 million in cuts remaining to fill the estimated $25 million budget shortfall. But the gap could change depending on whether legislators make more cuts or decide to raise revenue to fill the $510 million hole in the state budget.

If the district needs to cut less than $25 million, Allison said, leaders would start restoring money at the school-building level. But he has said the first $7.7 million in proposed cuts probably will be incorporated in next year's budget.

At the May 10 board meeting, Allison said he would present budget cuts at the school level.

"Many (cuts) become more obvious to average patrons as the year moves along," he said. "We will focus on our core mission and principles. Some fantastic things going on are not going to continue."

Related stories from Wichita Eagle