Wichita school board members got their first detailed look at a proposed budget Monday that would lower property taxes and cut about $22 million in programs and expenses.
If approved, the $662 million budget would decrease the district’s mill levy by 2.643 mills, or about $30 a year for the owner of a home valued at $100,000.
The board voted unanimously to publish the budget and set a public hearing and final vote for Aug. 22.
The budget presumes about $23 million in increased state aid in all categories, including funds earmarked for teacher retirement payments, virtual education programs and tax relief.
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Susan Willis, the district’s chief financial officer, said about $5 million of the increased aid can be used for general operating costs. Meanwhile, the budget presumes about $22 million in increased costs for health care, transportation, utilities, textbooks, property insurance and other categories.
For board members, the past several months have included “the very painful work of looking for corresponding cuts to offset those” cost increases, Willis said.
The budget, which board members tentatively approved in May, eliminates more than 100 district positions, closes an alternative high school and ends bus transportation for thousands of students.
Among other changes, the proposed budget:
▪ Trims 15 days from the school calendar and adds 30 minutes to each school day districtwide.
▪ Closes Metro-Meridian Alternative High School and consolidates alternative programs at Chester I. Lewis Academy in northeast Wichita.
▪ Eliminates many buses that transport students who live within 2.5 miles of Wichita schools. The plan cuts the number of students receiving hazardous-route rides by nearly 60 percent – from 3,711 to 1,526.
▪ Cuts more than 100 positions across the district, including about 65 teachers and others who work at alternative education programs such as Gateway, eSchool and alternative high schools. Most of those employees have been reassigned elsewhere, officials said.
▪ Changes start times at five schools: Gateway will move from 8 a.m. to 7 a.m., Greiffenstein/Wells will switch from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., and Pleasant Valley Elementary and Caldwell Elementary will switch from 9 a.m. to 8 a.m. to share buses with nearby middle schools.
▪ Reorganizes Wichita’s eSchool, Transition, Gateway and Adult Learning Center programs and moves Gateway to the former Emerson Elementary School, 2330 W. 15th St.
▪ Reduces the need for substitute teachers by cutting back on professional development activities.
▪ Decreases utility costs by resetting thermostats and could restrict personal appliances, such as classroom fridges, microwaves and coffee pots.
Officials also have proposed changes to the employee health plan beginning Jan. 1 in order to shore up its health care reserves fund, possibly instituting premiums and higher deductibles.
Although the district expects about $686,000 from the state’s extraordinary needs fund, it’s not actually budgeting those funds, said superintendent John Allison. The funding, which would be used to help serve an influx of refugee students, is contingent on the sale of the Kansas Bioscience Authority.
“We don’t have resources to give teachers or the people to put in those classrooms to help the additional students we’re getting, because we don’t have the money,” said board member Joy Eakins.
“In the meantime, we’re asking our staff to work harder with the resources they already have.”