Head of Wichita teachers union blasts district leaders in video

The leader of the Wichita teachers union blasted district officials Friday for their recent decision to create a new administrative position, saying the move is ill-timed and insensitive to teachers.

“Money … is not the issue,” said Steve Wentz, president of United Teachers of Wichita, in a video statement posted on the organization’s Facebook page Friday.

“What is an issue is how this decision and others are made, and how it … lands on employees who have felt continually undervalued by a Board of Education that has consistently said that they want to support and pay teachers more,” he said.

“The disconnect between those words and actions is huge, and it’s absolutely jaw-dropping.”

Superintendent Alicia Thompson was attending the Kansas-Missouri Superintendents Leadership Forum in Kansas City, Mo., on Friday and could not be reached for comment.

“She has been an active participant at the meeting, and hasn’t had the opportunity to view anything on Facebook today,” said district spokeswoman Wendy Johnson.

District officials announced this week that they plan to hire a deputy superintendent, a new second-in-command position that will report directly to Thompson.

Board president Mike Rodee said board members had been considering the position since 2012, when a former chief operating officer resigned and was not replaced.

Rodee said the new administrator would not require additional funding because, “We’ve been carrying over the cost for years, trying to decide if we would put it back in the budget or not.”

Board member Lynn Rogers said the Wichita district operates efficiently and is not top-heavy when it comes to central-office administrators.

Rogers said data collected by the district shows that several other Kansas districts have lower staff-to-administrator ratios and more employees who make more than $100,000 a year.

Wentz, in a video statement recorded from his desk at UTW headquarters, criticized the timing of the decision and urged teachers to contact board members and urge them to reconsider.

He said the district should wait to fill the post until state lawmakers craft a new school finance plan – one that potentially could mean millions more in funding for the Wichita district – following last week’s Kansas Supreme Court ruling.

“We’re not saying they’re top-heavy. In fact, I believe it’s probably a position that should be filled – but not now,” Wentz said.

“Where the money comes from is irrelevant. … It’s how it lands on people. It is the way that it makes people feel and how they seem to feel undervalued, whether it’s intentional or not.”

Wentz also questioned the school board’s commitment to transparency, citing its decision Monday to spend $270,000 on an internet upgrade that happened “without any discussion so the public would know what was going on.”

District officials said the following day that the upgrade was in response to attempted cyber attacks.

“It would be nice to know, at least in a peripheral sense, what had occurred,” Wentz said.

Wichita’s 4,200 teachers are working under the terms of last year’s contract, after the district and the teachers union recently declared an impasse on negotiations. Both sides are expected to meet with a federal mediator later this month.

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