Cuts reach classrooms

To their credit, USD 259 officials have tried to keep budget cuts away from the classroom. But they couldn’t hold out forever.

The district now has proposed eliminating teachers and programs that would have a direct impact on learning and connecting kids to school.

That’s not a criticism of the district. After several years of trimming spending and raiding reserves, and with an estimated $30 million shortfall next fiscal year, it has few options.

Proposed cuts announced Monday include:

* Eliminating 186 positions — most of them teachers and other certified staff, such as counselors and social workers.

* Closing Blackbear Bosin Academy, an alternative middle school at 6123 E. 11th St., and moving the program to Jardine Middle School.

* Eliminating 24 high school coaching positions and the same number of C-team and sophomore athletic teams.

* Eliminating the fifth-grade strings music program at elementary schools.

* Replacing 10 high school librarians with eight library clerks.

These cuts are on top of already proposed reductions that include eliminating 92 other jobs, requiring all nonteaching staff to take a furlough day, reducing the number of schools that receive federal Title I funding to help needy students, and ending funding for Parents as Teachers and the National Academic League program.

Previous years’ budget actions included freezing salaries, closing schools and eliminating driver’s education and school-resource officers at middle schools. The district also has reduced its administrative staff. Counting proposed reductions for next year, the district has reduced the number of employees in its central office by 29 percent since last school year, according to superintendent John Allison.

What’s particularly concerning about the latest proposal is that school officials have long said a key to keeping kids in school and reducing dropout rates is connectivity. But the district may cut programs, such as Cteam sports, that help kids connect with adult mentors and form friendships.

“For a lot of these kids, sports is a reason why they stay in school,” said Wichita Northwest High School soccer coach Bobby Bribiesca. “They have to maintain a GPA and stay involved.”

Cutting fifth-grade strings would reduce the quality and participation in the district’s orchestra programs. And studies have shown that kids in music programs do better academically.

The school board should look for options other than cutting these programs, such as requiring teachers to take a furlough day or a pay cut in exchange for eliminating some in-service training.

Another option is increasing the district’s local-option budget. The school board understandably doesn’t want to do that, because voters chose to raise property taxes as part of the 2008 bond issue. But if all cutting options are on the table, maybe all revenue options should be, too.

Admittedly, however, the district has limited alternatives — and nearly all of them are bad.

— For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee