Will Wichita school days be longer? Find out Wednesday

Pleasant Valley Elementary School (Dec. 3, 2014)
Pleasant Valley Elementary School (Dec. 3, 2014) File photo

The Wichita teachers union is expected to announce Wednesday whether teachers approved a cost-cutting plan to lengthen the school day and shorten the school year.

Teachers voted this week on the measure, which district officials proposed as a way to trim about $3 million from next year’s budget.

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.

District officials said savings would come primarily through a reduction in transportation and utility costs, as well as a reduced need for substitute teachers.

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

Steve Wentz, president of United Teachers of Wichita, said union representatives “had a very spirited debate” about the proposed calendar but decided to send the proposal to teachers with no recommendation to either approve or reject it.

“There’s a lot of frustration, and I understand that, amongst teachers wanting us to take a stance,” Wentz said.

“I think it reflects the fact that people are really frustrated and aren’t sure what’s going to happen,” he said. “And they may think it’s the least of a lot of really bad situations and choices we have.”

During a school board meeting last month, Wentz urged board members to consider trimming district-level administrator positions, re-assigning nonteaching staff members to classroom positions and not expanding initiatives such as the Multi-Tier System of Supports, AVID and the Marzano teacher evaluation system.

After the board voted last week to cut $18 million from the district’s budget, Wentz expressed frustration that board members did not discuss the union’s suggestions.

“We haven’t heard anything about whether or not those were done or even considered,” Wentz said. “I think there’s a lot of work that needs to be done on communication, and I think that’s probably a good place we need to start.”

District leaders said they explored the union’s suggestions and did trim district-level administrator and nonteaching positions. Among the cuts approved last week were about 38 jobs at non-attendance centers, including 14.6 positions in curriculum and instruction and 17 positions in facilities.

If Wichita teachers approve the calendar change, the school board will approve a new calendar for the 2016-17 school year, and building administrators will rework schedules to incorporate an additional half-hour into the school day.

A tentative calendar shared with union representatives showed enrollment occurring Aug. 8-10 and classes starting Aug. 24. The calendar includes a weeklong fall break around Thanksgiving and a winter break from Dec. 17 through Jan. 3. The last day of school would be May 17.

If a new calendar is approved, the district would contact families by telephone and use social media to inform them and the community of enrollment and other key calendar dates, officials said.

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