USD 259 preparing for cuts in state education funding

Wichita Public Schools (KSN File Photo)

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Wichita Public Schools, the state’s largest school district, has been preparing for months for the possibility of cuts to its budget due to reductions in state funding. As a result, district officials are looking at options like shortening the school year by two days next month, which could save the district hundreds of thousands of dollars.

One way to fill a budget gap may be waiting to fill open positions. Right now, there are more than 180 school district jobs that have not yet been filled.

While district officials say they have not implemented a “hiring freeze” at the moment, they say the district is taking things slowly until they know more about state funding for the 2016-2017 academic year. In other words, they’re taking things one step at a time.

For prospective new teachers, it’s a bit of a waiting game.

Some teachers, however, are not willing to wait.

“We’re having teachers that are quitting the district and going out of state and that’s not the district’s fault,” said Steve Wentz, President of United Teachers of Wichita.

Officials at USD 259 describe the current hiring situation as a “balancing act.”

“Some of the regular, general education positions aren’t being filled quite yet because they [the district] need to know what the budget is going to be for next year,” said school district spokesperson, Susan Arensman.

Steve Wentz told KSN News that the hiring situation has those who are in college studying to become teachers pretty anxious.

“If I was a senior in college right now, I’d be really worried,” Wentz said.

The district realizes that worry.

“This time of year, you have a lot of new teachers who are graduating and they’re looking for jobs,” said Arensman. “I know there’s a want to grab the best ones. When you might not be able to get them right out of the shoot, that can kind of make some people a little nervous because they aren’t able to hire them right away.”

District representatives say they still face cost increases of up to $30 million, meaning there will be cuts. The question is, what programs will be cut, and by how much.

Another possibility the district is considering?

“Moving librarians out of the elementary and middle schools is a horrible maneuver,” said Wentz.

But Susan Arensman says there is another side to such staffing cuts that could help save current jobs.

“If they make a cut and that person [a librarian, for example] is qualified to be a teacher in a position that’s open, we would like to move that person over to that position so they do not lose their job. It’s just that position has changed,” Arensman said.

But, until the district knows where it’s cutting, and how those cuts will impact each school, hiring decisions, especially for teachers, will remain a case-by-case basis.

“We’re just trying to evaluate to make sure that we make the best decisions with the money we have,” said Arensman.

Special Education teachers are reportedly usually in short supply. USD 259 officials say it is common, at any time, to have open positions in that area. As a result, the district is interviewing and hiring Special Ed teachers now to ensure they’re secured for the future.

“We’re definitely going to hire them now because we still need to fill those positions and we need to meet the needs of those students,” explained Arensman.

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