Wichita school board members got their first detailed look at a proposed budget Monday that presumes about $27.6 million in additional state funding.
If approved, the $682.6 million budget would keep the district’s property tax mill levy flat.
The board voted unanimously to publish the budget and set a public hearing and final vote for Aug. 28.
The budget features “maybe not as much good news as we’d hoped,” said Susan Willis, chief financial officer for the district. “But it is certainly a step in the right direction.”
The budget presumes about additional state aid next year under a new school finance formula approved by Kansas lawmakers. The Kansas Supreme Court still is reviewing whether the plan is constitutional.
Willis said about $20 million of the increased aid can be used for general operating costs. The budget presumes about $8.2 million in increased costs for utilities, health care, insurance and other categories.
The district recorded more than $8 million in carry-over cash from last year, thanks to “phenomenal years” in terms of mild weather and lower utility and fuel costs, Willis said. Unfilled positions, primarily in special education, also contributed to the savings, she said.
The proposed budget maintains a controversial calendar that lengthened the school day and trimmed 15 days from the school year.
Many local families say the longer day has been more challenging than expected, particularly for young children. In June the board approved a plan to start schools 10 minutes earlier districtwide, in an effort to get elementary students out of class before the afternoon rush hour.
Earlier this summer, teacher pay, recruitment and retention topped a list of budget priorities presented to board members. The list, presented in general again Monday but not tied to specific budget items, included at-risk programs, the Parents as Teachers program, curriculum and textbook needs, student technology and deferred maintenance.
Also on Monday, superintendent Alicia Thompson announced a series of listening sessions this fall where she plans to gather opinions and feedback from district employees, families and the community.
Four staff listening sessions are scheduled for: Oct. 2, 4-5 p.m. at Coleman Middle School; Oct. 3, 5-6 p.m. at Curtis Middle School; Oct. 5, 5-6 p.m. at Marshall Middle School; and Oct. 10, 4-5 p.m. at Truesdell Middle School. Participating staff members will be compensated for their time “in recognition of the importance of the conversation,” Thompson said.
Board member Joy Eakins commended Thompson on her efforts at gathering feedback.
“I love that that’s been your heart from the beginning – understanding where this community wants to take its children,” Eakins said.