Education

How Wichita schools plan to spend an increase in state aid

Susan Willis, chief financial officer for Wichita schools, said increased state funding will pay for new or expanded programs in several areas.
Susan Willis, chief financial officer for Wichita schools, said increased state funding will pay for new or expanded programs in several areas. The Wichita Eagle

A $28 million boost in state aid to Wichita schools will mean more teachers, enhanced technology, a new reading curriculum, expanded after-school programs and a team focused on helping youngsters who have experienced trauma, district officials said.

A proposed budget school board members are expected to approve Monday evening shows spending increases in most areas and keeps the district’s property tax mill levy flat.

Susan Willis, chief financial officer for Wichita schools, presented details of the $682 million budget in a briefing just prior to a public hearing on it.

She said an increase in state funding for education will enable Wichita schools to address some priorities but does not make up for several years of budget cuts. Over the past decade, she said, Wichita schools have lost about $98 million in funding from various sources.

“That impact overall is going to take us years to overcome,” Willis said. “We’re not going to be able to fix all our issues with one year of (increased) funds.”

The big question – potential raises for teachers and other employees – is unclear because contract negotiations just started this month, she said. The teams are scheduled to meet again Wednesday.

But additional aid that’s part of a new school finance formula will mean new or expanded programs for students, Willis said. Among them:

▪ Additional teachers to respond to enrollment spikes at some schools, including Southeast High School.

▪ Four new teaching positions and four para-educators focused on programs for English language learners.

▪ Three more high schools will offer after-school credit recovery classes. This year the learning centers, which are focused on helping students graduate on time, will be at East, Heights, North, South, Southeast and West.

▪ Technology upgrades districtwide, including in pre-kindergarten, and a ChromeBook initiative in some middle schools and high schools.

▪ A new “elementary trauma team” focused on helping schools address students with severe social or emotional needs. Superintendent Alicia Thompson said the three-person team is part of the district’s response to an increase in behavior problems at elementary schools.

▪ A new reading curriculum for elementary students. Earlier this year, board members approved a seven-year, $4 million deal with Carnegie Learning for a new math curriculum for secondary students.

▪ Expanded technical education programs, including culinary arts improvements at North High and robotic kits for middle school pre-engineering classes.

▪ Expanding a summer STEM program from Mueller Elementary School to two new sites.

“These are examples of funds in action,” Willis said. “It’s an exciting time … and I’m happy to see what they’ll do with these funds.”

The proposed budget – about $20 million more than last year’s – also shows a significant increase in capital expenditures, which reflects a plan to address maintenance projects that were deferred during bond construction, Willis said.

The budget approved Monday will set the district’s maximum spending authority but will not limit its ability to move funds around based on spending priorities, she said.

Suzanne Perez Tobias: 316-268-6567, @suzannetobias

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