Wichita school district considers furloughs

Wichita school leaders continued chipping away at their budget Monday, tentatively approving a furlough day for non-teacher employees and keeping many bond projects on hold.

"There's a ways to go," said school board president Connie Dietz. "The really hurtful cuts are yet to come."

Superintendent John Allison's "Phase 1" budget cuts include one furlough day next school year for all district employees except teachers and paraprofessionals. The move would save the district about $300,000, he said.

Allison said a furlough day for teachers, which would save the district another $1.2 million, will be discussed during upcoming negotiations with the teachers union.

Other proposed cuts include relocating programs from the Workforce Center and the Midtown Community Resource Center back to district property to eliminate lease payments of about $137,000.

The Wichita Workforce Center, at 150 N. Main, houses the district's Workforce Learning Center. The Midtown building houses a prekindergarten program and the Multilingual Education Service Center. It was unclear Monday where those programs would move.

Also Monday, managers of the district's $370 million bond issue said about half the bond projects that were part of a recent "pause and study" — 35 of 67 schools in the bond's third phase — will proceed, though scaled back in some places.

Because of approaching deadlines to spend bond funds, projects will go out for bids and work will continue at four high schools, nine middle schools and 22 elementaries, said Martin Libhart, director of operations.

Bond projects will proceed at North, Northwest, South and West high schools. The middle schools where bond work will continue are: Allison, Brooks, Coleman, Hadley, Hamilton, Mayberry, Pleasant Valley, Truesdell and Wilbur.

Presenting the list of schools marked "proceed" or "pause," Libhart said most schools selected for bond work don't have Federal Emergency Management Agency-approved storm shelters. Others are elementary schools with more than 450 students that don't have separate cafeterias and multipurpose rooms.

"We're committed to doing FEMA shelters," Libhart said. "Our ultimate goal is a FEMA safe room at every school."

Even so, 15 schools needing storm shelters remain on hold. Also on hold: a new $38 million high school in southeast Wichita.

"It's a pause, it's not a termination," said Allison.

"We need to look at what meets our needs not just from the timeline standpoint, but what will meet the needs of our district long term. ... We want to be very certain that the decisions we're making ... are best for the district."

Allison also presented a cost analysis of several contract terms being proposed by United Teachers of Wichita. The total cost: about $42 million, Allison said.

In talks that begin Wednesday, the union has proposed increasing teacher salaries by 3 percent, reducing the number of contract days, increasing planning time and reinstating the additional pay teachers receive for experience and education, known as "steps" and "tracks."

According to the analysis, eliminating four inservice days — and cutting salaries accordingly — would save the district about $4.8 million.

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