Wichita teachers will vote on longer school day, shorter year

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Wichita teachers will vote later this month on a contract change that would lengthen the school day and shorten the year, a move intended to trim $3 million from the district’s budget.

Representatives from the district and the teachers union met for about an hour Wednesday to hash out specifics of the proposal. Teachers will vote at their schools May 23.

If the plan is approved, school days would be 30 minutes longer for Wichita students starting this fall. The school year would be 15 days shorter, and classes likely would start a week later than scheduled, on Aug. 24.

Students would go to school 158 days next school year instead of 173. Teachers would work 175 days instead of 190. Teacher pay would be unaffected by the proposed changes.

Schools that start at 7 a.m. would release students at 2:40 p.m.; schools that start at 8 a.m. would end at 3:40 p.m.; and most elementary schools, which start at 9 a.m., would end at 4:40 p.m.

“I think that we all agree these are desperate times due to things beyond our control,” said Tom Powell, the district’s legal counsel and chief negotiator, at the start of Wednesday’s session.

The revised calendar “is not a good thing, but it does keep cuts far away from the classroom,” he said.

Union officials raised several concerns about the proposed schedule.

Keith Welty, spokesman for United Teachers of Wichita, said teachers worry that planning time – which is calculated based on the number of school days – would be shortchanged under the new plan. He also questioned how 30 minutes would be added to elementary schedules – whether it might be designated for math intervention or some other purpose.

“Secondary assumes the 30 minutes will be absorbed by adding minutes to every period,” Welty said. “The elementaries, they don’t have a clue, and that’s what they’re asking.”

Alicia Thompson, assistant superintendent for elementary schools, said she is part of a scheduling team “currently working on some different options of what that would look like.” But “we don’t have an answer for you right now,” she said.

Thompson said a longer school day would put Wichita on par with most districts in the state, which already have 7 1/2- or 8-hour days and more instructional time. Wichita currently ranks 272nd out of 280 Kansas districts in total time per school day, she said.

Later in the meeting, Welty asked whether elementary students would get guaranteed recess as part of their longer day, a demand that is part of the union’s initial proposal for next year’s contract.

“It would help us if we could go ahead and tell elementary teachers that they will have a 15-minute unstructured recess time,” Welty said.

Thompson said a new recess committee intends to make that recommendation to Superintendent John Allison in coming weeks, but she couldn’t guarantee it would be part of next year’s schedule.

If teachers don’t agree to the calendar change, the district will have to find $3 million in cuts elsewhere. District officials said this week that could mean eliminating about 85 librarians and data leaders and outsourcing custodial management to a private company.

UTW president Steve Wentz told the district team Wednesday that he was disturbed by that ultimatum.

“I have people in custodial going, ‘Gosh, now my job is relying on what your teachers do,’ ” Wentz said.

After some back-and-forth, both sides agreed to send the revised school calendar to Wichita teachers for a vote. Results will be tallied and reported back by May 25, Welty said.

“It’s going to be an interesting vote,” Welty said. “We’re looking at losing a lot of money in health insurance stuff, and so they’re thinking, ‘What am I getting out of all of this?’ It’s hard to separate those out, so I don’t know how it will go.”

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