As nearly 30,000 students arrive for the first day of school in Olathe this week, school district officials still are hammering out a tough budget for the new school year.
School starts today for first- through sixth-graders and freshmen in the district. The rest begin Thursday.
The school board discussed the preliminary budget and outlined the next steps in adopting the budget at Thursday’s meeting. Last month, district officials announced they would lay off 80 staffers and cut the budget in other ways to overcome a $2 million deficit caused by new block grant funding approved by the state this summer.
This new funding method freezes district budgets for the next two years. This comes amid increased costs for utilities, bus transportation and licensing fees for technology as well as a rise in enrollment of 417 students. Under last year’s school funding formula, the district would have received approximately $1.5 million for those new students, said John Hutchison, the district’s chief financial officer.
Hutchinson said the district would apply for additional funding that the Kansas Legislature made available when it designed the block grant funding. An extraordinary need fund with approximately $12 million allocated for 2015-16 was created for districts experiencing large decreases in assessed valuation or large student growth. Applications are due mid-August with a hearing to be held Aug. 24 in Topeka to review applications. It is expected that districts will receive approval or be denied that day. If approved, the additional funds could go toward rising health insurance costs that the district is still assessing.
“We’re already in the hole. Staff has done a very good job of trying to minimize that,” school board member Mike Poland said. “As we approach the budget in a couple weeks, I’m asking the public to see that we have tremendous pressure from increased costs. We’re doing as well as we can.”
Middle school library aides and support staff are some of the 80 positions that have already been reduced by the district. A custodial staff reduction is expected after a custodial plan is developed. No additional layoffs will be needed.
The mentoring program that provided in-school guidance for first-year teachers ended and is expected to save the district about $75,000 per year. Kansas requires mentoring for all new educators, but cut the funding provided for those programs two years ago. District-wide mentors will now absorb the workload traveling from school to school to meet with new teachers.
The preliminary budget also eliminated elementary Spanish and vacant positions; reduced school building budgets; and reallocated lunchroom supervision to food service. Paraprofessional hours were cut from 8 hours to 7 hours per day.
The 2015-2016 budget must be on file with the County Clerk and Kansas State Department of Education by Aug. 25. The board will hold a community budget workshop Thursday at 6 p.m. in the Education Center located at 14160 Black Bob Road. The budget will be approved at a special board meeting and budget hearing Aug. 20.