Wichita schools considering four day week and other moves to cut $23 million

Wichita Public Schools (KSN File Photo)

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – The largest school district in the state could be the largest in the country to go to a four-day school week.

“It’s one of the options,” says Jim Freeman, the chief finance officer for USD 259. “But we’ve got a lot of things here to consider.”

Freeman is laying out the options the school is trying to make work.

Freeman says the school is in the middle of finding more efficiencies or cuts to make the budget work. Lawmakers decided last year schools would not get an increase for extra expenses like a rise in insurance, gas prices, electric and other cost of living items.

“I don’t really know the total impact and how it would look if we went to 4-day work week,” says Gammon Elementary Principal, Mendie Vicin. “I know that we have various staff days that would probably be built into that schedule that would allow for that… to not be a part of it. But I also know than it would be an inconvenience for parents perhaps on the day that they would need to find daycare for that fifth day of the week. I’m open to the suggestion though, if it would keep more staff in the building and keep us from cutting staff.”

Freeman says keeping the buildings open is about $50,000 a day for electric costs in a district with more than 51,000 kids. Reduced bus use would cut fuel costs if schools went to a shorter week.

“We’ve got to come up with the dollars,” says Freeman. “We want to know what the consequences are. While nobody wants to do away with elementary librarians or nurses or outsource custodians, we have to look at what those options might produce for us in terms of savings. And, at the same time, looking at how that would impact our students.”

Freeman says they are also considering a large list of things to make the budget work. That includes studying whether or not a longer school day would work. A longer day would allow the district to cut school days in the year to save money.

Vicin says she would like to see lawmakers add money to keep up with the costs of inflation, something lawmakers did not do this last year with so-called flat funding.

“Fund schools. Fund public education,” says Vicin. “I would like for them to come and live a day in our life so they can see what we do every day, and the amazing things staff do to support students.”

Freeman points out the four-day school week is just one idea, and nothing is final yet. But, something will be done, including the concept of cutting supplies for the district by 10 percent.

Some teachers say the cut would mean they just pick up the slack.

“Right now, we get a very minimal ($$ amount) for the year and the rest all comes out of the teachers pocket,” says Gammon Elementary teacher Charlotte Neugebauer. “So we’re used to spending a thousand plus a year already.”

Neugebauer says basic supplies being cut will add to her personal spending amount out of her own pocket.

“If I didn’t do the activities with the kids I wouldn’t have to spend it,” explains Neugebauer. “Hopefully, they get a good education. They get an enriched learning environment. They get a hands-on environment where they can explore, they can ask questions, they can dig deeper into the information.”

School board members will get a closer look at the proposals by Chief Finance Officer Freeman and his team later this month. A decision on some of the cuts will need to be made by April 28th.

At Monday’s school board meeting, board members gave initial approval to some cuts that would leave another $12 Million remaining to be cut.

“We want to know what the consequences are,” says Freeman. “While nobody wants to do away with elementary librarians or nurses or outsource custodians, we have to look at what those options might produce for us in terms of savings and, at the same time, looking at how that would impact our students.”

Freeman says the May 9th board meeting will include the “final phase two” recommendations. At that time they will also look into the remaining $12 million to be cut.

USD 259 will have to adopt a budget on August 8th, at least tentatively.

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