State cuts delaying new school calendar

Scheduling late-summer activities and wondering when Wichita students will start school?

Trying to book a holiday flight and need the dates for winter break?

You'll have to wait a bit longer.

The Wichita school board has yet to approve next school year's calendar, including the first day of school. Officials are waiting on several things that could potentially affect the calendar, such as budget cuts and teacher contract negotiations.

"We are getting calls because folks want to make plans," said John Allison, Wichita's superintendent.

"Right now there's just too much unknown" to set dates, he said.

Families scheduling personal trips or activities should "try to avoid those two- or three-day windows" around mid-August and mid-December, the typical starts of school and winter break, Allison said.

The Board of Education usually approves the calendar for the following school year in January or February. Last year, after some discussion of adopting a four-day school week to cut costs, leaders finally decided to continue a five-day week and adopted a calendar in late March.

A four-day week is one of the district proposals in this year's teacher contract talks as well. Other proposals include reducing the number of days teachers work, such as in-service days. Contract negotiations started Wednesday.

Further complicating calendar matters is the lengthy and fluid state budget process. School districts have to wait for state lawmakers to pass next year's budget before they know how much money they need to cut and, consequently, whether the calendar could be affected.

Allison said the Wichita district faces an estimated $30 million shortfall in state aid next year, which is likely to affect programs and services.

The state budget could be approved as late as April or May, but officials say the district plans to pass a calendar for next school year before that. The calendar dictates scheduling for extracurricular activities, some of which need to be planned months in advance.

"We know it's an issue," Allison said.

Some suburban school districts, including Maize, Goddard, Augusta and Rose Hill, have approved their 2011-12 school calendars. Others, including Derby, Andover and Haysville, say they will likely pass theirs this month.

The Renwick school district plans to adopt its calendar March 28 but set its first and last days of school in February. Some districts pass calendars early — Newton passed one last year — with the caveat that they're subject to change depending on board action and teacher contracts.

Mary Whiteside, chairwoman of Wichita's calendar committee, said she hopes to present a calendar to board members in April.

"We believe the... recommended calendar will give us a basic structure, yet the flexibility to make adjustments based on the budget and the negotiations process," she said in an e-mail.