Union urges Wichita teachers to opt for lump-sum paycheck in June

Wichita teachers union officials are urging teachers to opt for a lump-sum summer paycheck this year in case a Supreme Court threat to shut down schools becomes a reality.

“We’ve got to make sure that if the Legislature punches the nuclear option, that people can survive a few more weeks,” said Steve Wentz, president of United Teachers of Wichita, which represents the district’s 4,200 teachers.

“It’s just a temporary fix even then.”

Earlier this month, the Kansas Supreme Court ordered lawmakers to fix unfair and unconstitutional school funding by a June 30 deadline or risk shutting down school districts statewide.

As part of the Wichita teachers contract, teachers can be paid monthly all year or can opt for the balance of their compensation in one payment “no later than the last working day in June.”

Wentz said union leaders discussed the issue at a meeting recently because the district will send notices to teachers next month reminding them of the lump-sum option.

“I’ve told people, ‘Look, we are in uncharted waters,’ ” Wentz said. “The truth of the matter is that we have to have the conversations about ‘What if?’

I’ve told people, “Look, we are in uncharted waters. The truth of the matter is that we have to have the conversations about ‘What if?’

Steve Wentz, United Teachers of Wichita president

“Between the conversations I’ve had with the superintendent and the people in Topeka, I’m not hopeful,” he said. “I wish I was, but I’m not.”

According to Jim Freeman, chief financial officer for the Wichita district, about 13 percent of Wichita teachers currently opt for a lump-sum paycheck in June instead of spreading their pay over June, July and August.

More teachers requesting a lump sum shouldn’t cause payroll or budget problems, Freeman said, because the district runs all payrolls in June regardless.

The average monthly payroll for Wichita teachers is about $12.4 million. In June, the district’s payroll budget is about $53 million and includes all the summer months’ pay for teachers and other employees, Freeman said.

“That’s the way we plan it,” he said. “We run all those payrolls so we can get them on the books for the current fiscal year.”

Last week Kansas lawmakers passed a joint budget bill that does not address the court’s recent order to solve funding inequities between school districts. District officials worry that delays on that issue, combined with projected revenue shortfalls, will lead to cash-flow problems for schools as the fiscal year ends.

“We are having those discussions now, trying to put together what that would mean to us,” Freeman said.

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