Wichita teachers union leaders on Monday urged school board members to consider trimming district-level administrators and not expanding initiatives such as MTSS, AVID and the Marzano teacher evaluation system.
“Are we trying to prop up a bureaucracy built on a funding system that no longer exists? Or should we think outside the box and go back to basics?” said Steve Wentz, president of United Teachers of Wichita.
“We ask – we insist – that we change the way we look at solving the budget problem, and we’re asking to keep the cuts out of the classrooms.”
Before Monday’s school board meeting, about 200 Wichita teachers, custodians and others held signs and waved at traffic outside North High School in a demonstration of support for educators.
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The rally came as district officials are looking to cut another $12 million from next year’s budget. Options being considered include reducing the number of school nurses, librarians and counselors; cutting transportation; privatizing custodial services; doing away with some programs; and possibly lengthening the school day and cutting the school year.
Cynthia Martinez-Woelk, a visual arts teacher at Irving Elementary School, held a sign with a big red heart and “259” written inside – the Unified School District number for Wichita, the state’s largest district.
Martinez-Woelk, who was awarded a master’s degree in 2014, said the degree ended up reducing her income because she’s making payments on student loans without any bump in pay. For five of the past eight years, the district has frozen any raises linked to additional education or experiences, known as “steps” and “tracks.”
“I didn’t even turn in my transcripts, because what’s the point?” she said. “What it comes down to is the students. We’re fighting for our jobs and the pay that we should get … but everything we do is for students.”
Board members did not take action on any major budget issues Monday but decided by consensus to remove a four-day school week from consideration.
The board also voted unanimously to end this school year two days early to save about $400,000. The last day for Wichita students will be May 20; the last day for teachers is May 24.
Wentz, the union leader, said many local educators were troubled by what wasn’t on the district’s list of possible cuts when officials presented options last month.
“We are in a crisis that no one in here has ever seen before in this district and probably in the state,” he said. “So we insist that we put a hold on anything that is not absolutely essential.”
Among the union’s suggestions:
▪ Delay any expansions of several initiatives, including AVID, the Marzano teacher evaluation system and the Multi-Tier System of Supports, which features teacher training and behavior plans that are consistent throughout the district.
▪ Do not replace Denise Seguine, assistant superintendent for learning services, who plans to retire this summer and makes about $140,000 a year.
▪ Reconsider the need for more than two dozen administrators not based in student attendance centers. “We pay over $1 million per year for executive directors, and yet none of those … positions were listed in any of the proposed budget cuts that we saw,” Wentz said.
▪ Reassign data leaders, facilitators, curriculum consultants and other nonteaching staff to classroom positions – about 170 positions, according to Wentz – and reduce the current bargaining unit by the same number, which he said could save $10 million.
▪ Explore less expensive alternatives for professional development, including a partnership with the American Federation of Teachers or other organizations.
During a budget discussion later in the meeting, board member Sheril Logan said the board is considering cuts away from the classroom, including district-level administrators and positions in curriculum services.
Board member Lynn Rogers pledged to look at the union’s suggestions but said some numbers quoted are “not that simple,” including cases in which positions are paid for with grant money or other funds.
He also urged teachers and others to channel their anger toward state lawmakers, who make school funding decisions.
“As a board member, I apologize that we can’t pay you what you’re worth. … None of these cuts are good for education,” Rogers said.
“But this message, it has to be brought to the rest of the community. We cannot just talk amongst ourselves and be angry and upset.”
In other action Monday, board members:
▪ Recognized high school seniors who received major college scholarships. This year’s senior class of 2,415 Wichita students were offered nearly $43 million in scholarships, officials said.
▪ Discussed implementing a longer school day but shorter year, possibly as early as next year. Switching to seven-hour days – adding 30 minutes a day – could cut 15 days off the school calendar and save about $2.6 million, officials said.