Panel works to winnow suggested school cuts

Wichita schools are being asked to cut a total of $15 million from programs that affect students daily. But superintendent John Allison said he hopes not all of those reductions will have to be made.

School programs under scrutiny include classroom teachers, band, athletics, latchkey and all-day kindergarten.

Thursday night, Allison asked a committee of 60 parents, employees and community members to discuss the programs. They will individually decide how they would cut $5 million from either the elementary, middle or high schools budget.

"It makes me sick," said Colvin Elementary School teacher Beth McDonald after passing in her list of suggested reductions in middle schools. "I'm passionate about all of our jobs. The extra things our kids need dearly need to go."

Their recommendations will be compiled by early next week.

Allison said he will take the committee's input into account as administrators recommend how to reduce school-based budgets at the May 10 board meeting.

"The only way we're getting there is through positions," he said. "When we get to campus level... it's going to be people."

Brandi and Blayton Peach, parents of four children, put advanced-placement classes and money that applies only to some middle-school band students on their reduction lists.

"I thought about which programs serve more children," said Brandi Peach, who works as a learning coach at Wichita elementary schools.

The school board voted Monday to cut 117 positions, including 14 driver's ed teachers and 44 curriculum leaders and coaches.

The district is trying to cut $25 million from a $621 million budget because of predicted cuts in state aid. School leaders said most of the budget reductions will have to be made in the $251 million of unrestricted funds in the total budget.

But the Legislature hasn't finalized a budget for next school year. Allison said the district will keep working to propose $25 million in reductions; if the schools don't have to cut that much, the cuts will be restored.

"I hope I don't have to take any recommendations you make tonight to the board," Allison said, but he said about $10 million in cuts announced earlier this month would probably have to be made regardless.

Allison has proposed to the board a total of $14.3 million in mostly district-level cuts. All the reductions would be officially approved when the board votes on the budget in August.

The committee of stakeholders that met Thursday will continue to meet during the next school year.