State budget troubles could be impacting teacher retention

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Wichita & Newton, KAN. Hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cuts are coming in a plan from lawmakers to fix the state's budget shortfall.

One thing that's safe - money for your child's K-12 education. The bill passed by lawmakers early Monday morning protects K-12 funding from any additional cuts.

But some in the education field say the damage may have already been done by the ongoing budget battle.

One Wichita teacher says after adjusting for inflation and other changes, like increases in health insurance costs, it's been 7 years since she's seen a raise.

After hearing about the latest budget solution, which again borrows from KEPERS, the state's retirement fund, she's decided to leave Kansas.

"I am moving out of state," said Michele Peres, a 6th grade math teacher at Coleman Middle School. She's been teaching in Wichita for 17 years, but will be teaching math in Nevada this fall.

"It's either get out of education, which I don't want to do, or it's make the change to help somebody else," Peres said.

She says she made the decision after dealing with budget cuts year after year.

"It's just everything adding up, having to do so much more with less," she said.

Peres says a teacher's salary hasn't kept up with the cost of living. Aside from teaching, she works two other jobs.

"Just to make ends meet," she said. "I clean offices, and I'm also a health coach."

"It's frustrating for us, trying to pay our own bills. But it's frustrating not having the services to support the kids. The kids are our future," she said.

Peres says she finally decided to leave after hearing about the latest budget fix.

"Brownback has made that helpful decision with his borrowing against KEPERS, our retirement. I don't want to work until I can't work anymore because I'm 6 feet under," she said.

The Newton School District says its noticed the impact of budget cuts on teachers.

"I think it has taken a toll on education in Kansas," said Dr. Deborah Hamm, the district's superintendent.

"We're at a place where finding, recruiting teachers to come to our district and then retaining them is becoming more and more difficult," Hamm said. "We're having trouble filling certain positions that a few years ago would've been easy to fill, like English Language Arts," she said.

Hamm says the amount of money the district gets from the state directly impacts how much it can pay teachers, which also impacts whether or not the district draws applicants.

For Peres, money was only part of the reason behind her choice to leave Kansas.

"it's like they're not looking at where is the state going. What is the future outlook for the state? How are we going to provide the education for the students?" Peres said. "In the long haul, it's going to impact the entire state and whether or not we retain quality teachers here in Kansas, she said.

Both Peres and Hamm say me they think the solution includes legislators finding a long-term plan that invests in Kansas education, and finding a way to pay for it.

FactFinder12 takes a look at how many times teachers in the Wichita school district received raises over the past eight years.

2015-16 salary freeze
2014-15: 2% salary increase
2013-14: 1% one-time payment
2012-13: 1% salary increase
2011-12: salary freeze
2010-11: salary freeze
2009-10: salary freeze
2008-09: 2.9% salary increase

During some years of salary increases, policy changes (such as changes to KPERS, health insurance fees, or tax shelters) might have led to no increase in a teacher's take home pay.