Last chance to speak out on Wichita school budget

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If you want your voice heard on the Wichita school district budget, Monday night is your chance.

At its regular board meeting at North High School, the school board will hold a public hearing on its proposed $628 million budget just before voting to approve it.

The 2012-13 budget is about $22 million more than last year’s, thanks to a boost in state per-pupil funding. It keeps the local property tax rate flat and includes the first raise for district employees in four years.

The budget presumes no enrollment changes for Wichita – the state’s largest school district, with more than 50,000 students – but officials have said enrollment could increase.

It calls for adding four dozen teachers, most targeted to special-education and bilingual students and some to five new schools that opened this fall as part of the 2008 bond issue.

Along with higher employee salaries – a significant portion of the added spending – the district expects to pay more for utilities and fuel in the coming year.

In addition to discussing the budget, school board members will:

•  Consider two proposals to redraw school board district lines to ensure equal representation at the ballot box.

One plan would move 11 board precincts, affecting about 15,850 residents; the other would put a high school in each voting district, shifting 18 precincts and affecting nearly 28,900 residents. Currently District 2 does not have a high school within its voting district.

•  Consider a new recruitment strategy to find teachers for hard-to-fill subject areas such as math, science and special education. The measure would allow district recruiters to offer open contracts to teachers – up to $50,000 a year – in other parts of the country, subject to background checks and other safeguards.

•  Vote on a plan to buy two properties – one near Riverside Elementary and another near Gardiner Elementary – to make room for bond projects at those schools.

The district would buy a house at 1031 N. Porter, near Riverside, for $191,228; it would buy a house at 1901 S. Laura, near Gardiner, for $77,500. Both deals include closing costs and state-mandated moving costs.