Wichita schools, despite claims, find cost savings

Despite claims that school spending has been “cut to the bone,” USD 259, the Wichita public school district, found a way to save $2.5 million per year by adjusting school starting times, thereby saving on transportation costs.

School spending advocates have claimed that it is not possible to cut spending without affecting students. It starts at the top with Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson’s repeated claims that spending has been “cut to the bone.” He says it’s not possible to make more cuts.

Other school spending advocates repeat this theme of having cut as much as possible, repeating the “bone” theme. An issue of the Kansas National Education Association newsletter Under the Dome for March 30, 2009 claims that spending has “already been cut to the bone.”

Kansas Board of Education Chair Janet Waugh said “Districts have already cut to the bone,” according to a Kansas Reporter article.

Last year Representative Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, former Wichita school board member, and Assistant Minority Leader of the Kansas House of Representatives, stated in a KAKE Television news story “If you cut $10 million, you’re now cutting into the bone, the marrow, and you’re going to have a significant impact on the ability to deliver education.”

The Wichita Eagle editorial board has said several times that cuts to Wichita school spending will hurt students. Referring to the possible need to cut $25 million from the Wichita school budget, Philip Brownlee in March wrote “Cutting that much money — or even a third as much — could cause great harm.”

Despite these claims, by adjusting school starting times and transportation schedules, the Wichita school system was able to save a great deal of money without impacting the classroom. The $2.5 million savings just discovered by the Wichita school district is 30% of the “one-third of $25 million” that Brownlee says cutting would cause great harm. It represents 25% of the amount that Ward claimed would have a significant impact.

We should now ask these questions:

First, are there other cuts like this that can be made? It seems unlikely that this change is the only cost savings the Wichita school district — and other districts — can find.

Second, the Wichita school district did not participate in a voluntary school audit program. What other costs savings might have been found if Wichita had participated?

Third, why wasn’t this savings discovered and implemented in past years? Does it take a budget crisis to force public schools to seek ways in which to operate more efficiently?

Finally, private sector businesses face the never-ending discipline of market competition and seek ways to operate more efficiently even in good times. Government institutions such as public schools, however, don’t face this discipline. Should Kansas find a way to introduce market discipline to our state’s schools?


4 thoughts on “Wichita schools, despite claims, find cost savings”

  1. Excellent point, Bob. This is yet another example of the scare tactics that are used to build support for an unnecessary tax increase. Even with the small (3.8% according to the KS Dept. of Educ.) decrease in total aid per-pupil that USD 259 got this year, they are still predicted to spend 25.8% more per-pupil than they did in 2005. How can anyone claim to be ‘cut to the bone’ when their spending is so much higher than just a few years ago? By the way, they’ve also increased their cash reserves by $20 million since 2005 (not counting reserves for capital and bond payments).

  2. They absolutely should go to market-based reforms. The work of Dr. William Ouchi of UCLA provides some ideas for where to start.

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