Wichita school officials and teachers union representatives will meet this week to negotiate a contract change after district leaders issued an ultimatum on Monday: Approve a revised school calendar or eliminate dozens of jobs, including librarians, data leaders and custodial managers.
As part of an effort to cut nearly $23 million from next year’s budget, Wichita district officials have proposed lengthening the school day but shortening the year, a move they say would save about $3 million.
Adding about 30 minutes to each school day – starting this fall – would allow the district to cut about 15 days from the calendar, said Jim Freeman, chief financial officer for Wichita schools. And that would translate to significant savings in transportation, utilities and other areas.
The change will require negotiating with United Teachers of Wichita over working conditions and a possible change to this year’s contract. Talks are set for 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Alvin Morris Administrative Center, 201 N. Water.
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Teachers’ salaries wouldn’t change under the plan, Freeman said. But cutting the school calendar would reduce workdays and pay for noncontract employees such as para-educators, food service workers and substitute teachers.
“It’s either the calendar or something else, and almost anything else that’s on that list is going to touch the classroom,” Freeman said.
If teachers don’t agree to the contract change, the district would have to find $3 million in savings elsewhere, Freeman said. Options presented this week include replacing elementary and middle school librarians with para-educators, eliminating data leaders at secondary schools and outsourcing custodial management, chemicals and equipment to a private company.
Each of those three options would save between $1 million and $1.5 million, Freeman said.
Steve Wentz, president of the local union, which represents more than 4,000 Wichita teachers, said the revised calendar “is the least of a lot of bad choices” but wouldn’t say whether the union will endorse the plan.
“We have to see how it plays out tomorrow as to some other particulars, including some discussion about planning time,” Wentz said.
Wichita teachers would have to vote to ratify the contract change, likely during a teacher workday on May 23, Wentz said. Results would be tallied and reported the next week, he said.
If the revised calendar is approved, Wichita students would start school a week later – on or around Aug. 24, Freeman said. Students would have a full week off at Thanksgiving and two weeks of winter break, and school would end about a week earlier than scheduled, in May 2017.
Last month, Wichita board members voted unanimously to end this school year two days early to save about $400,000. The last day for Wichita students is May 20; the last day for teachers is May 24.
Wednesday’s agenda for district and union representatives will not include talks about proposed health care cost increases or other items proposed by either side for the 2016-17 teacher contract.
Freeman said he was hopeful the calendar issue would be settled Wednesday, contingent on teacher ratification.