Wichita school leaders proposed cutting 186 jobs, shuttering one school building and eliminating several programs tonight as part of what they hope will be the final round of budget cuts this year.
"We're at the point where we're cutting the guts out of this district," said Connie Dietz, president of the Wichita school board. "It's a sad, sad day."
Superintendent John Allison's proposal, which seeks to fill a $30 million shortfall in state and federal funding, includes:
* Cutting 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.
* Reducing night custodial services across the district.
* Cutting support positions for middle school band.
* Eliminating district funding for Americorps, a program that provides mentors and tutors.
* Raising ticket prices by $1 to sporting events at high schools and middle schools.
The phase-three proposal, if approved by the board this summer, would cut $9 million from the district's $632 million budget.
Allison told board members it's too early to know exactly how the cuts would affect each school. Because of retirements, resignations and other personnel moves across the district, "It's a moving target," he said.
Several board members shook their heads as Allison presented each budget cut. Jeff Davis stopped the presentation to ask specifically about the proposal to cut athletic teams for underclassmen.
"All these are tough, but this one is really bothering me," Davis said. He said he fears some students won't be able to participate in sports at all if they can't make the junior varsity or varsity teams.
"I don't know if there's any way, as a board . . . Can we try to save this?" he said.
"I will definitely be able to present alternatives," Allison answered. "But it means we'd have to find $172,000 someplace else. ... The problem is, none of the alternatives are any better."
Dietz, the board president, said the range of proposed cuts "means classrooms won't be as clean, we'll have bigger classes, some libraries won't have librarians."
She said she didn't know whether she or other board members will suggest alternatives in an effort to save programs. "I think we need some time to digest everything," she said.
Eliminating the strings program at elementary schools, which serves about 1,100 fifth-graders, would save about $480,000, Allison said.
Laura Carpenter, director of the Robinson Middle School orchestra, said earlier today that eliminating fifth-grade strings will affect orchestra programs in middle schools and beyond.
Seventh- and eighth-graders at Robinson recently auditioned and were accepted to perform at the Midwest Clinic, a prestigious international band and orchestra conference in Chicago.
"My group will go from the best in the nation to one that is a year behind," Carpenter said. "This is really sad news."
If board members approve the cut, Wichita students would begin strings instruction in sixth grade, similar to band students. The fifth-grade program is encouraged but not required for students who want to play stringed instruments in middle school.
To date, board members have tentatively approved cuts that would eliminate 278 fulltime positions, including 223.5 instructional jobs. They also cut technology spending, ended funding for popular programs such as Parents as Teachers and the National Academic League, approved a furlough day for nonteaching workers and cut the number of schools that will receive federal Title 1 funding intended to help needy students.
"This is going to affect the quality of education, period," said board member Lynn Rogers.