© 2022 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Olathe Public Schools Facing $2 Million Deficit, Plans Layoffs

Sam Zeff

The July meeting of the Olathe Public Schools usually has been pro forma, even a little boring, with election of board officers and some statutorily required actions.

But not Thursday night's meeting. The board, three of whom were just elected, got the news that the district has a $2 million deficit and up to 80 layoffs may be needed to close the gap.

"This hurts. This is family," outgoing board president LeEtta Felter says. "There's a lot of heartache behind this."

"These are people. They have faces. These are people we work with every single day. That's the emotional part of it," says Superintendent Marlin Berry.

The district is proposing to leave a handful of open administrative jobs unfilled, but the bulk of the savings will come from layoffs and program cuts.

The plan calls for the elimination of middle school library aids, paraprofessionals hours will be cut, some custodians will be laid off and the district will end its Spanish program for elementary students. In addition, the district plans to end its teacher mentoring program.

The district blames the new block grant funding formula passed by the Kansas Legislature which freezes district budgets for the next two years. "If your revenue is frozen and your costs are going up then you have to find a way to account for that, and that means cuts," Berry says.

"The block grants are very scary," says Rick Schier who presided over his first meeting as Board president Thursday night. "The rest of the world, nobody else is holding everything flat. Everything else continues to increase."

The district says it will have an additional 400 students when school starts next month. Under the old school funding formula the district would have received more aid from the state for those students.

In addition, the district says it has yet to hear how much health care benefits will increase for the coming year and that may push the deficit even higher.

Schier says he's already worried about next year's budget and worried that students are being harmed. "All the responsibilities are still there. There's still things we have to do and there may be less reflection back to the students."

The board will taken final action on the budget on Aug. 20.

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and powerful storytelling.
Your donation helps make non-profit journalism available for everyone.