Wichita's Alvin E. Morris building exterior.
The Wichita school district is developing its 2022-23 budget, which the board is expected to approve in August. (Matt Hennie/The Beacon)

Creating the nearly $1 billion budget for Wichita USD 259 is a yearlong ordeal. As the process to build the 2022-23 budget intensifies this summer, there are opportunities for the public to get involved. 

Feedback from parents helps determine how the school district’s expenditures should be divided.

“I hope that people don’t feel intimidated to get involved,” said Stan Reeser, president of the Wichita Board of Education. “It’s our job to listen to what they say, they’re the boss.” 

The $972 million budget for the 2021-22 school year was used to educate more than 47,000 children — about 11 percent of all public school students in Kansas — across 96 schools and alternative programs, according to the district’s website.

The annual budget is a mix of local, state and federal funding. The three largest areas of the current budget are instruction (nearly $440 million or 45% of the budget), operations and maintenance ($106 million or 11%) and administration and support (nearly $104 million or 11%). The budget also funds transportation, food services, capital improvements and debt service.

Through input from parents, schools can better understand where the money needs to go within those areas. 

“It’s like planting a seed,” Reeser said. “You may not see it reflected on this year’s budget but you’ve planted a seed.”

How the budget gets made 

The budgeting process lasts all year. As soon as one budget is passed by the school board, the district’s budgeting office gets to work drafting the next one. 

When school begins on Aug. 15, the district conducts its first head count of students that is to be finished in September. Then the state audits those numbers. 

“The majority of our budget is driven off of FTE, or full-time equivalent, count,” said Susan Willis, chief financial officer for USD 259. “Then at that point we can start to estimate what we believe our following year’s revenues will be.”

Each student is then set to have a base amount of funding attached to their needs. 

“Each student will get base aid and then each student will get additional funding based on what their need is,” Willis said. “A special education student will get additional aid. If that student is bilingual they will get additional aid.”

Another metric that would cause a student to be counted for additional aid is if their family qualified for free or reduced-cost meals. The school district is increasing its lunch prices after the federal government ended a COVID-era program that allowed public schools to serve free meals without families needing to report their income.

In May, Kansas lawmakers passed an education funding bill that secured $6.4 billion for schools across the state for the 2022-23 fiscal year. That included $4,846 per student for the 2022-23 school year, which is an increase from $4,706 over last year’s state education budget.

Then, the amount of aid the school will receive based on the count will be marked as revenue to be used for the following year’s budget. 

How to get involved

Once the budget is drafted, the school district begins briefing board of education members each January on where the funding will be used. 

Most board meetings are held in a public forum where parents and community members can prepare comments. 

If you are unable to attend a meeting, Reeser suggests emailing board members. Contact information is on the board’s website.

“I find it really helpful to get emails from the public and from parents and teachers and really all of our stakeholders on what their priorities are,” Reeser said. “I luckily get emails like that year-round that help my mind as we formulate the budget.” 

Also available online is an archive of previous board of education meetings, minutes, and agendas that can be used to catch up on previous budget presentations. 

“We highly encourage parents to inform themselves of how the process works, and we are covering budget topics every month for about an eight-month period,” Willis said. “Everything that you want to know about our budget can be found by watching the replay on TV.” 

The broadcast schedule for school board meetings can be found here. 

Important dates to remember: 

  • The next regular board meetings are July 25, Aug. 8 and Aug. 22. 
  • The first full draft of the 2022-23 budget will be presented at the July 25 meeting.
  • The Aug. 8 meeting includes an opportunity for comments specifically about the drafted budget.
  • The board will hear final notes on the millage rate and pass the 2022-23 budget on Aug. 22.

The 2022-23 budget will fund the fiscal year that started July 1. According to Reeser, the district plans around the small window of time where it operates without a final drafted budget. 

“The budget not only flows forward, but it has to flow backward too,” Reeser said.

Northwest High School on North Tyler Road is one of Wichita’s nine public high schools. (Trace Salzbrenner/The Beacon)

The school budget at a glance

Each year, the district publishes a condensed version of its annual budget that divides it into numbers that are easier to understand. 

The 13-page “Budget at a Glance” gives a glimpse of where revenue dollars are going and what departments are spending the most. 

According to the document, the 2021-22 budget allowed for roughly $9,000 per full-time equivalent student to be used in instruction-related expenses. It’s a more digestible number than the full instruction budget of $439,948,436. This means that the district spent $9,000 per student on resources for classrooms and education materials.

“I wish, if I had the ability, I would hand this document to every single citizen out there,” Reeser said. “It is a great document for people to look at and really get a feel for what our budgeting is.” 

Another way to see the budget is getting involved in the schools. 

“Parents that are involved with our schools see every day how we are spending our money. They see the teachers in classrooms. They see the technology that we have,” Willis said.

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Trace Salzbrenner is a community journalist for The Wichita Beacon. Follow him on Twitter @RealTraceAlan.