The Olathe school district is laying off up to 80 employees as part of deep budget cuts to overcome a $2 million budget hole caused, mostly, by new block grant funding from the state.
Teachers and families audibly gasped at Thursday’s board meeting as the district’s chief financial officer outlined the cuts called for in the preliminary budget for the upcoming 2015-2016 school year.
“We’ve been trying to stay away from the classroom for years,” John Hutchison said. “The year finally came where we could not avoid that. None of these decisions are easy to make.”
The plan’s cuts call for the elimination of middle school library aids, custodial staffing layoffs, and ending the Spanish program for elementary students.
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The budget cuts also eliminate vacant positions, reduce support and assistant positions districtwide, reduce school budgets, and reallocate lunchroom supervision to food service. In addition, paraprofessional hours will be cut from 8 to 7 hours per day, and the mentoring program for new teachers will end.
The budget cuts are due to continued district growth at a time when the Kansas Legislature adopted a new block grant funding formula that freezes district budgets for the next two years, in addition to increased costs in utilities, the bus transportation contract and other costs.
The district is expecting 417 new students this school year. Under last year’s school funding formula, the district would have gotten approximately $1.5 million for those new students, Hutchison said.
Health insurance costs for the district are also expected to increase in the coming year, which may also need to be factored into the budget or passed on to employees.
Board President Rick Schier said the rising costs and static budget make him even more concerned for the 2016-2017 school year.
“It’s hard this year. It’s going to hurt even more next year,” Schier said.
Among the toughest cuts is eliminating the Spanish program, board member LeEtta Felter said.
“We are having to cut the elementary Spanish program, but it’s not done without blood, sweat, and tears. There’s a lot of heartache behind that decision,” Felter said. “Those faces and teammates that are going away with eliminations will be greatly missed. It hurts not to be able to offer these services. I’ve heard from a lot of families that are very upset. We’re with you. We’re upset too.”
A revised cleaning plan is being developed with Olathe principals to aid in the reduction of the number of custodians while addressing the needs of the buildings.
A community budget workshop will be held at 6 p.m. Aug. 13. The board expects to adopt the budget Aug. 20.
Thursday’s meeting was the first of the fiscal year. About 50 people attended.
Board members elected Schier as president for the 2015-16 year, and Brent McCune as vice president. Joe Beveridge and Shannon Wickliffe were sworn in as new members.