Wichita’s developing plan to close schools this year: 10 things to know

The list of specific schools recommended for closure will be available in less than a month.

by Maria Benevento

  • Wichita Public Schools announced coming school closures to fix a $42 million budget shortfall.
  • At the school board’s next meeting, Feb. 12, administrators will suggest which schools should close and explain why they were chosen.
  • The district hopes to move workers into other positions or locations rather than laying them off.

Wichita Public Schools board members faced a stark choice this week. 

Close schools at the end of the academic year, or lay off hundreds of teachers.

The decision, prompted by a projected $42 million shortfall in the 2024-25 budget, seemed clear. 

The only benefit of cutting staff would be to delay the seemingly inevitable closing of some schools, Susan Willis, the district’s chief financial officer, said in a presentation to the board. 

Meanwhile, closing buildings could trim maintenance costs, make the district more efficient and keep people employed, she said. 

But the call to close schools — administrators are already working on a proposal — after the spring semester also raises serious questions about what will happen to families, staff and buildings. Here’s what we know so far. 

What kinds of schools are at risk of closing? 

The district doesn’t have a secret short list, Superintendent Kelly Bielefeld said during Monday’s school board meeting. 

Leaders will consider factors such as building age and condition, enrollment trends, whether the school is close to capacity and whether there are other schools nearby. 

A chart displayed at board meetings, not labeled with school names, shows only one district building that is both in good condition and has enrollment that isn’t too high or too low.

When USD 259 knows which schools it is recommending for closure, the public will get to hear a detailed explanation of why each one is on the list, Bielefeld said. 

High schools are safest from closure. 

It “would be difficult to absorb those students” into other schools, Bielefeld said, “and we haven’t seen enrollment loss in high schools in the same way” as in elementary and middle schools. 

When will we know which schools will close? 

Administrators will have a specific recommendation for the board by its next meeting, Feb. 12.

The district hopes to have a final decision before spring break, which begins March 11. A board meeting is scheduled for March 4. 

Will I have the chance to weigh in on school closures? 


The district will hold a public hearing after the recommendations are announced and before the board makes a final decision, Bielefeld said. There will likely be an opportunity for written feedback for those who can’t attend in person. 

The district also continues to collect feedback for its longer-term plans for which buildings to keep and maintain, including through a survey sent out this week and community engagement meetings. 

If I work in a school that closes, will I still have a job?

Most likely.

The district has hundreds of vacancies and expects hundreds more retirements, Willis said. If you’re an employee in a school that closes, you can apply and interview for any of those vacancies that interest you. 

That process is meant to give staff more control over where they end up if they prefer certain buildings or areas of town. But if someone’s first choices don’t work out or they don’t want the hassle of interviewing, the district can also reassign people to openings. 

What happens to students after school closures

It’s hard to know precise details without knowing which schools are closing. But Bielefeld said schools will work with families individually to make sure they understand their options. 

The district will adjust neighborhood school boundaries. Another round of adjustments and building decisions will come when the master plan is complete. 

Why are school closures on the table at all? 

In December, the board discussed the beginning stages of a facilities master plan that could include school closures. 

Consulting firm Cooperative Strategies said nearly half of the district’s elementary schools were below the enrollment threshold needed to be sustainable. Overall, the district’s buildings needed about $1 billion worth of repairs. 

Closing some buildings instead of repairing them could reduce some of those costs as well as trim the daily expenses of keeping so many buildings open. 

And the district has plenty of room for students if some buildings close, Willis said. It’s built for about 63,000 students, but enrollment is closer to 47,000 and projected to continue declining. 

Why the sudden hurry to close schools? 

The district had planned to take more time to develop a master plan for its buildings. But a financial crunch has pushed Wichita to consider some closures before that plan is ready. 

The district is facing a shortfall of $42 million when it considers its revenue and expenses for the upcoming school year. That means it needs to find ways to reduce its costs quickly. 

Bielefeld said the district wants to have the list of schools that will close finalized soon so it can give families as many options as possible. USD 259 will also have to work on reassigning teachers and other staff from schools that close. 

How did the district get in this financial position?

In Kansas, schools get funding based on their enrollment. Wichita’s declining enrollment, a trend since 2016 that was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, means it gets less state funding. 

The district is also facing the end of pandemic relief funding that has helped to bolster its budget and soften the impact of lower enrollment, Willis said.

Even knowing that federal funding wasn’t permanent, the district increased wages in an attempt to battle staff shortages. 

“We went into it eyes open,” knowing it would mean addressing budget issues later, Willis said. “And we will need to do that for ’24-’25.” 

The district’s teachers union also blamed the state’s failure to fully fund special education for the budget issues. 

“If the state had met its statutory obligation over the last five years, our school district would have received an additional $60 to $70 million in special education,” United Teachers of Wichita President Katie Warren said during the meeting. “Instead, we find ourselves in the unfortunate position of having to pull from general funds.”

Did the district consider other options to balance its budget? 


Alternatives to closing schools that didn’t garner much enthusiasm include cutting hundreds of staff positions or using cash reserves. 

Staff cuts would only postpone building closures, Willis said, and would run counter to feedback from students, parents and staff. 

Dipping too far into cash reserves would also only postpone the problem and could put the district at risk if state funding changes or open enrollment policies lead to loss of students, Bielefeld and Willis said. 

The district is also working on other ways to save money as part of a three-phase plan. 

Phase 1, covering about $9 million, includes: 

  • Five percent minimum cuts for all administrative departments. 
  • Cutting some positions previously funded by federal COVID relief dollars, moving those staff members to other vacancies.
  • Eliminating some other administrative roles and those funded with COVID relief dollars when they become vacant. 
  • Restructuring the AVID college and career readiness program to fewer locations.

Phase 2, covering about $16 million, is the school closures. A frequently asked questions page on the district website says the average state and local funding is about $5.1 million for an elementary school and about $7.6 million for a middle school. But first-year savings might be only 50 to 60% of that amount because the district will still own the buildings. 

Phase 3, covering the remaining $17 million, could include: 

  • More attempts to remove roles when they become vacant. 
  • Additional program cuts and changes.
  • Using a limited amount of the district’s cash reserves.

What will happen to buildings when schools close? 

In the short term, the district will likely keep them, Willis said. The buildings could get used as temporary school sites while other buildings are repaired or rebuilt. 

Ultimately, most buildings that close will likely be sold, she said. The state of Kansas has first right of refusal when a district opts to sell a building.