Marchers protest shortages in public education funding

Local politicians join rally to support increased funding for Lawrence schools

Supporters of increased state funding for public education took their cause Saturday to the streets of Lawrence.

“We’ve got to start making some noise,” said Richard Heckler, a member of the Brook Creek Neighborhood Assn. and a lead organizer of the event that included a march down Massachusetts Street and a rally in South Park.

“This has to snowball,” said Leonard Ortiz, who in July will take his seat on the Lawrence school board after winning election in April.

Ortiz was one of nearly 50 people who marched because of concern about the lack of state funding for public education. Funding shortages have motivated school closings, staff layoffs and fewer classes in the Lawrence district and districts across Kansas.

Many of the marchers carried signs proclaiming “No teacher left behind” and “Raise our taxes now.” A large banner at the front of the parade bore the words “Topeka — fund our schools. We need money now.”

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius had been invited to the event but did not attend. Several local government representatives did.

“Topeka has got to get the message,” said State Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence. “These are some of our best teachers. Now they are getting a pink slip for the second year in a row.”

Davis and Rep. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin, were among 16 freshman legislators who earlier this year led efforts to raise taxes to improve education funding. That effort failed.

Vivian Caughey, Lawrence, holds a sign in support of funding for public schools during a rally at South Park. Caughey, whose contract was not renewed for the coming school year, was a nurse at Broken Arrow elementary and South Junior High schools.

Moreover, Sebelius signed off on the Legislature’s decision to delay payment of $213 million in state aid for school districts until July 1, putting a strain on districts trying to make payroll.

Holland urged the support of “moderate and progressive” legislative candidates as one way to get better support for education at the Statehouse.

“We’ve got to work smarter in Topeka,” Holland said.

Joining Davis and Holland in showing support were Douglas County Commissioner Charles Jones and Lawrence City Commissioner Boog Highberger. The city and county are contemplating ways of assisting the Lawrence school district with funding.

Jones suggested it might be necessary to “be legally disobedient” and challenge the Legislature’s funding process in court.

Adela Solis, vice president of the Lawrence Education Assn., noted that the school district had lost 66 teachers, nurses and counselors through the recent round of layoffs.

Kirsten Roussel, president of the Brook Creek Neighborhood Assn., center, and her husband Glen Roussel, Lawrence, applaud Saturday during the rally.

“We are losing very good teachers who do very good work,” said Solis, who, because of the closure of East Heights School, will become a teacher this fall at Cordley School. “It’s time to do something about it.”

Vivian Caughey, who recently lost her job as nurse at South Junior High and Broken Arrow schools, vowed to work for funding support.

“This is just starting,” she said. “You have to get the momentum going.”

Heckler said a second march and rally would be Aug. 16, just after the start of the new academic year.

Saturday’s march and rally were endorsed by Kansas Families United for Public Education Inc., Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods and Kaw Valley Green Party.