Wichita board OKs $648 million school budget

The Wichita Eagle

Before the Wichita school board unanimously passed its budget Monday, school district leaders expressed frustration over what they said has been “misleading” rhetoric on school funding.

“I keep hearing, ‘You got more money,’ ” said superintendent John Allison. “No, we didn’t. … There’s a lack of understanding on how this actually played out.”

The $648 million budget approved Monday – about $35 million less than last year’s budget and $4 million less than last year’s expenditures – cuts some programs and expenses, raises property taxes and freezes teacher pay.

This year’s general fund is about $101 million higher than last year’s, said Jim Freeman, chief financial officer for the district. Wichita will get about $5.6 million in additional state aid.

But those numbers don’t tell the whole story, he said.

Of the additional aid, about $5.3 million is earmarked for teacher pensions, Freeman said. About $300,000 is targeted to special education.

“For the regular-ed student, we’ve got a whole $53,000 of new money,” he said. That translates to about $1 per student.

“The flip side to that is … we’re looking at about $14 million in increased expenses,” or about $270 per student, Freeman said. “So the new money coming in and the expenses don’t balance out very well.”

Under the approved budget, the district’s mill levy will increase by 2.86 mills, about $33 a year on a house that is valued at $100,000. The increase includes a one-year, 0.42-mill special assessment tax to finance infrastructure around the new Southeast High School.

Schools cut more than $6 million in nonpersonnel expenses, including community engagement programs, supplies and field trips, Freeman said.

“We’re hoping that it really doesn’t impact the actual instruction in the classroom,” he said. “But we’re going to start to see some things.”

Wichita will use about $3 million from its contingency reserve to help balance the budget. That leaves about 10 days of operating expenses in contingency, Freeman said.

Also on Monday, the school board approved a new teacher contract, which teachers voted to ratify last week.

The board also extended the superintendent’s contract another year, through June 2018.

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

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