Wise to pause, study

Caught between the obligations of the 2008 bond issue and the consequences of the state budget crisis, leaders at Wichita’s USD 259 were prudent in deciding Monday to “pause and study” the bond construction, as they seek promised.

If it doesn’t exercise caution and foresight now, the district could end up having new classrooms and buildings but insufficient funds to hire teachers to teach in them. The funding streams may be different, but common sense calls for the district to try to align construction with its long-term capacity to staff and operate buildings.

As school board president Connie Dietz told The Eagle editorial board, “When we passed this bond issue, we had everything funded. And then the sky fell in, so to speak” — including a proposed $232 cut in the base state aid per pupil for next school year that would roll back the district’s state per pupil funding to its 2001-02 level.

That said, the $370 million bond issue was a promise to voters and the community that should not be broken if possible. (The extent of the board’s legal obligation to adhere to the bond issue plan is being studied.)

It’s not as if the need has eased as the economy has crumbled. The district’s head count this school year is 50,033, compared with 49,146 when tendent John Allison also is targeting two other areas: central office operations and busing. Because they are away from the classroom, those seem like good places to cut.

Plus, the bond work so far has benefited from low bids. While the district waits, the bond projects’ costs aren’t likely to decline. And as contractors told The Eagle, the bond issue has been a godsend to local construction companies during the downturn.

To try to offset state funding cuts and the loss of federal stimulus funds, superinways to cut spending without compromising learning.

As the district faces a potential need to cut $30.4 million, largely from the 38.4 percent of the budget that consists of unrestricted funds, students and student achievement inevitably will be affected.

Parents and the public need to make their priorities known to the district’s leaders but also to the Legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback. Especially as they affect instruction, the education cuts made this year could ripple through the community for decades.