Public schools were spared more funding cuts in the budget bill the Legislature approved early Monday morning. But that won’t spare school districts from having to make budget cuts.
In Wichita’s case, the district needs to seriously review the budget-reduction ideas offered by its teachers union, some of which seem preferable to bad ideas the district is now considering.
The state budget bill includes an ugly mix of fund transfers, payment delays and unspecified state agency cuts to close a nearly $300 million budget shortfall this fiscal year and next. But on the positive side, it includes a provision that safeguards K-12 education from funding cuts.
“We continued our commitment to K-12 schools,” said Rep. Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, the House budget chairman. “When we passed the block grant bill last session, one of the things we stated was this is stable and secure funding in unsecure times.”
It’s good that lawmakers tried to keep the cuts away from schools. But block grants don’t account for rising school costs, such as increased enrollment, more at-risk students or higher health care or utility costs. That’s why, despite “stable” funding, school districts across the state are grappling with how to reduce their spending.
USD 259 estimates it needs to cut at least an additional $12 million from next year’s budget. Options district leaders are considering include reducing the number of school nurses, librarians and counselors; privatizing custodial services; doing away with some programs; and possibly lengthening the school day and cutting the school year.
The district is also looking at significant changes to its transportation plan, including sharply reducing the number of students receiving hazardous-route bus rides, changing start times at several schools, having some middle and elementary school students ride the same buses and reducing the number of bus stops.
Most of these option are less than optimal, and some could negatively affect students and schools.
To their credit, Wichita teachers union leaders have suggested other possible cuts that might be less harmful, including not replacing an assistant superintendent who is retiring, reducing the number of other administrators not based at schools and moving more nonteaching staff back into the classroom.
Not all the ideas may be practical or desirable. But teachers are on the front lines and likely have good ideas for saving money. The district should listen to them.