Education

Despite strict budget, midyear cuts could occur, Wichita school district superintendent says

Wichita schools superintendent John Allison speaks to the Student Advisory Council in 2013. On Monday, Allison warned that midyear cuts to personnel and programs are not out of the question, despite what he called an “ultra-conservative” budget for the district.
Wichita schools superintendent John Allison speaks to the Student Advisory Council in 2013. On Monday, Allison warned that midyear cuts to personnel and programs are not out of the question, despite what he called an “ultra-conservative” budget for the district. File photo

The Wichita school district’s 2015-16 budget will be “ultra-conservative,” superintendent John Allison told school board members Monday.

Even so, schools could face midyear reductions or cuts to personnel and programs in coming years if state revenue doesn’t meet projections.

“We have chunked away and chunked away and chunked away over several years, and we are reaching that critical point,” Allison said. “How long can not only Wichita but other school districts across the state continue to sustain that without a major reduction in the services and supports and opportunities we provide our students?”

Jim Freeman, chief financial officer for the district, gave board members another overview of the developing budget Monday. Next week, they will get their first official look at the budget, which likely will be set for a public hearing and final vote on Aug. 24.

Freeman said the district will continue to tap into contingency reserves to cover operational costs and avoid major cuts to programs, but that can’t go on much longer. Meanwhile, officials predict enrollment could grow by about 300 students – many of them high-needs students – with no additional state aid.

Freeman’s proposed budget calls for the district’s mill levy to go up 3.3 mills, an increase of about $39 a year on a house that is valued at $100,000.

On Monday, he gave board members a rundown of projected state aid to Wichita schools, which is expected to total about $421 million. That figure is significantly higher than last year because of “flow-through” funds, Freeman said – money that used to go directly to specific areas of the budget, such as special education, but now passes through the general fund before being allocated.

“This is going to be … used by those that want to misconstrue the funding to education,” Allison said.

“It’s going to look like there’s a big increase where, in reality, the dollars we have to spend are the same. It’s just how it’s being counted and reported that will be different.”

Allison and board members again expressed frustration with the state’s recent change to block-grant funding, which essentially freezes districts’ budgets at this year’s levels.

“The bigger question is … how does that begin to change?” Allison said. “At what point will the citizens in Kansas say, ‘No more. We have reached a point where we are unwilling to accept decisions that continue to erode educational opportunity’?

“Until that happens – and it happens at the ballot box – we’ll continue to see these (cuts) getting larger and larger.”

In other business Monday, board members elected Betty Arnold as board president for the coming year. Mike Rodee was elected vice president.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @suzannetobias.

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