Wichita Board: Give Us More

The two top leaders of the Wichita school board offer up praise to the Wichita schools, and defend taking an even larger budget from the local taxpayer.

But what about that extra state money the district is getting? Won’t that mean no new spending? Forget about it.

“The additional $18 million in state funding the district will receive this year is certainly a large sum. However, these resources will disappear very quickly due to the increased costs of doing business, including utilities and fuel, increased school resource officer funding and the investment in key teaching and support positions.”

Think about a dialog within a large company, say the leader of the company and the leader of a large division of the company:

CEO: Your performance isn’t what we want it to be and you’re over budget. What do you have to say for yourself?

Division chief: We need more money, sir. You see, our costs of business keep going up. Our legal fees, our insurance, our heating bills, everything. We’re over the budget because our costs of doing business keep going up.

CEO:  Maybe you ought to change the way you do business.

The pair continue: “Much of the district’s new funding is designated for intervention purposes, which means new staff will go to lower class sizes and increase student achievement.”

Certainly new staff will increase the budget. Will that staff–assuming it means “more teachers”–mean better student performance? Not necessarily. The research on class size is counter-intuitive. Smaller class size–at least anything less than a very expensive effort–is of limited value in improving student achievement.

“In addition, two unusual events find the federal government shifting costs to the district’s local budget — changes of $3.1 million in federal and state grant requirements, and the loss of millions of dollars in Medicaid funding support for special education students.”

Some people would call that an occasion to find efficiencies and to re-engineer the way of operating so as to save money, rather than tap the public for more.

“In 2006-07, our district was the only one in the state of Kansas with more than 7,000 students that was not at 30 percent local option budget level. Additionally, Wichita’s mill levy was among the lowest of all Sedgwick County school districts last year and is expected to be again this year.”

The op-ed also touts rising achievement levels. Yet when one out of three students (at best) is not achieving at grade level, any year-to-year increases are cold comfort.l

Strong communities need strong schools, Wichita Eagle, August 5

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