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Archive for Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Kansas parents fear more school budget cuts

December 29, 2010

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Cordley Elementary School used to have up to a dozen volunteers helping students with reading, writing and math, but now parents do clerical work to help make up for staff cuts.

The reductions were one effect of Kansas’ budget problems. With less state aid, Lawrence schools have been forced to cut nearly $8 million in spending over the past two years.

Things are not likely to get better. Kansas raised its sales tax this year to help make up for the loss of federal economic stimulus funds next year, but when the Legislature convenes and Gov.-elect Sam Brownback takes office Jan. 10, they’ll be looking at a $500 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year that starts July 1. It’s a gap that could lead to more spending cuts across the state.

At Cordley, parents like Alee Phillips aren’t sure how long they’ll be making copies, laminating posters or filling out paperwork.

“I hope it’s not the new reality. Districts have to deal with the resources they are provided,” said Phillips, who has two children at the school. “I think it’s a scary time with education funding.”

Public schools in Kansas had a few years of relative prosperity before the Great Recession began, thanks to a lawsuit that forced legislators to increase education aid. But with aid to public schools consuming more than half of the state’s tax dollars, it has been a natural target for cuts in tough times.

School districts have responded by cutting more than 1,600 jobs in the past year, consolidating buildings, cutting programs and laying off teachers.

Lawrence schools have about 11,000 students and 1,600 employees, with a monthly payroll of $4.5 million.

The district trimmed its spending by laying off paraprofessionals who worked with special education students, reducing the number of days teachers work and increasing the student-teacher ratio by one student, a move that may seem small but saved more than $1 million in one year.

Many districts have reserve funds — something Republicans who opposed the sales tax increase noted. Brownback said in a recent interview that he hopes to give districts more flexibility to use that money to tide them over.

But Lawrence Superintendent Rick Doll said that without clear direction from the state, districts are reluctant to tap reserves much more. Once the money set aside for emergencies is gone, it’s gone.

“If the Legislature would say that funding wouldn’t be cut, then we would be much more likely to dip into our contingency because (right now) we don’t know that there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Doll said.

Kansas law sets schools’ base state aid at $4,400 per student, with extra money for at-risk students and those with limited English skills. But the base aid districts actually receive has fallen to $4,012, about where it was six years ago.

Schools would be getting even less were it not for the sales tax increase and federal stimulus. To avoid more cuts in education funding, the state will have to make up for the loss of $192 million in stimulus dollars during the next fiscal year, something legislators don’t think is likely.

Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler, a Lindsborg Republican, said districts “need to be realistic” in their expectations.

“Just with all of the things that we are required by law to fund, there isn’t enough money to go around,” Emler said.

Some parents and school districts have already lost patience with the state.

Attorneys representing 63 districts and 32 students filed a lawsuit in November in Shawnee County District Court, demanding that the state restore funding for schools. The lawsuit claims the state is shirking its responsibility under the Kansas Constitution to provide an adequate education to all students.

The same attorneys were behind a lawsuit that led to the 2005 and 2006 Kansas Supreme Court rulings that forced legislators to boost spending on public schools. Their latest case is a response to the state going back on those increases.

Meanwhile, in Lawrence, there are fewer pencils and less paper for students after the district cut spending on supplies. Teachers complain of the stress of trying to do more with fewer resources.

“I worry about our novice teachers who are just starting,” said Valerie Johnson-Powell, president of the Lawrence Education Association and 29-year veteran in the district. “This stress is extremely hard on teachers’ health, including mine.“

Teachers also feel frustrated because the budget, not students, has become the focus of attention, she said.

“I love working with my students,“ said Johnson-Powell, a speech and language pathologist. ”That gets lost in all the rhetoric about the budget. We teach because it is in our blood.”

Parents say the most glaring change is the absence of support staff who once helped teachers reach students who were falling behind in math and reading. Phillips said she would love to return to Cordley’s classrooms to work directly with teachers and students.

“I’m not doing that now,” she said. “I’m in the lounge making photocopies.”

Comments

Liberty_One 3 years, 3 months ago

I always chuckle when I read these pieces. School funding today is far higher per student then when I went to school, yet every cut (or lack of an increase) in spending is heralded as the end of public education. The problem is too many administrators and ineffective teachers. But when it's other people's money, there is no incentive to make the RIGHT cuts.

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Jimo 3 years, 3 months ago

To date, the wingnuts have been too afraid to take on the constitutional requirement that the State provide all minors an adequate education.

Given a GOP Governor and massive majorities in the both legislative houses, will they threaten their electoral victories by taking on The People of Kansas and removing this provision?

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oneeye_wilbur 3 years, 3 months ago

And just how did our grandparents and parents , aunts and uncles get an education? Isn't it interesting that the local newspaper owner went toschool at a time when there wasnt such a demand from the parents. Let's ask Mr. Simons if he got a good education> Let's ask our city manager and city commissioners if their parents were slighted and did their parents complain that their kids were shortchanged?

It is time for this "new" generation of parents to sit down,shut up and pay up. Take away the cell phones from your kids and their expensive toys and teach them and yourselves to make choices.

The schools certainly are not doing it, maybe it is time the parents became parents!

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Kontum1972 3 years, 3 months ago

Economic Development Initiatives Fund.....boy this is a mouthful....

and whose economic Initiative..sure as hell isnt for the students...and u are correct on the sports crap and big new stadiums..hit up the university of kansas for use of those sports fields down on Iowa...bring lawnchairs, if you want to watch a game

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bobberboy 3 years, 3 months ago

Daaaaaa. That's what happens when you don't support public education. You can either pay for your kids education with increased taxes or you can send them to private schools and foot the bill that way. The choice is yours.

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obamarocks 3 years, 3 months ago

So we can't afford to teach our children, but we can afford TWO new football stadiums and other upgrades to sporting related areas. Everytime I drive by those stadiums I get sick and pissed!

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obamarocks 3 years, 3 months ago

So we can't afford to teach our children, but we can afford TWO new football stadiums and other upgrades to sporting related areas. Everytime I drive by those stadiums I get sick and pissed!

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obamarocks 3 years, 3 months ago

So we can't afford to teach our children, but we can afford TWO new football stadiums and other upgrades to sporting related areas. Everytime I drive by those stadiums I get sick and pissed!

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pace 3 years, 3 months ago

Cynically Brownback will "listen' to families and give some support to education, like Bush who cut Pell grants but made a big announcement when he restored some. I usually resist telling volunteers what to do, they are in the best chair to decide that. I suggest that working with the kids on reading and math, one on one will be the better investment than helping the schools keep their clerical work up. Administrators will benefit from the help with office work, but in the long run they will be ok. I do commend the volunteers,what ever they choose to do to help. The parents and community makes a difference that can last generations. So again, thank you to the parents and community that show up and do something.

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Kontum1972 3 years, 3 months ago

when they sold us the kansas lottery business..wasnt extra money for education the big sell?

what's up with that?

where oh where?

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George Lippencott 3 years, 3 months ago

Well, how about we use any increase to address the underfunding of KPERS?? I believe I read recently we are the second worst in the country in terms of funding our pension plans??

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usnsnp 3 years, 3 months ago

Do not know how many of you that are saying that the teachers are overpayed went to school here on the taxpayers dime, or did all of you go to a private school and your parents pay all the expenses. Do not know what most of you complainers about overpayed teachers do, but I suspect that most of you should be fired from your job and be replaced by a lower payed person even though you had to get a bachlors or masters degree at the least your pay should be cut by at least 30% because you are overpayed. But I agree that we have too many school districts not only in the state of Kansas but the whole US. There are around 15,000 local and state school districts in the United States, each one trying to push there own agenda, and most of the people on these school boards have never been involved in education profession and could not teach there way out of a paper bag.

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CorkyHundley 3 years, 3 months ago

You mean pareNts arE suppOse tO take CaRe Of kids aFter they give birth to them?

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TopJayhawk 3 years, 3 months ago

Kansas ranks 29th nation wide in per pupil funding. Not great, but not bad considering the low cost of living here.

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TopJayhawk 3 years, 3 months ago

And this business of suing the state with our own money is scandalous. they need to do their job and quit whining.
We are all expected to do more with less, and they should be no different. If you don't like it,,, get another job.

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TopJayhawk 3 years, 3 months ago

We have 105 counties in Ks. But we have over 340 school districts. Are you serious? We need one school district for each county.
The metro Topeka area has five public school districts. Five. This is absurd. We need to consolidate.
Silver Lake and Rossville a few yrs ago were all set to merge. then the parents decided the football rivalry was just too important. Absolute loonacy.

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TopJayhawk 3 years, 3 months ago

Notice they never say where Kansas ranks with that $4,000 per pupil. Why? Because we rank pretty high in ralation to the other states. I also get tired of everyone wringing their hands and saying: "But what about the children?" what a scare tactic.
Schools need to make better use of the money given. Too many high dollar administrators, too much spent of redundent athletic facilities. Way too many school districts in this state,. All lead to too much redundancy. But this will never change as the fox is watching the hen house. They all prefer rudundancy to unemployment. So they lie and point fingers and play a good shell game.
What a joke. Also the NEA is a fraud. They pass themselves off as a student and education advocacy group, when all they are is a self-centered money grubbing union.

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black_butterfly 3 years, 3 months ago

Pencils and paper? For the past 18 years that I have had children in the Lawrence Public School system the parents have had to provide pencils, paper, glue, kleenex, etc. That does not come from the school budget. In fact the teachers use the tissues that the children bring for their own personal use. STILL, we need to make sure teachers have what they need to teach. It is a shame that in this country we care more about athletics than we do our children's education. Don't get me wrong, I am a huge sports fan. GO JAYHAWKS! Do what needs to be done to support the schools and teachers!! Our children's futures are at stake!

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Fossick 3 years, 3 months ago

"At Cordley, parents like Alee Phillips aren’t sure how long they’ll be making copies, laminating posters or filling out paperwork."

God forbid the public take an active role in running the public schools. Seriously, is there any argument that can be made that the government needs to hire professional copy makers and poster laminaters for the good of the children?

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toe 3 years, 3 months ago

Costs will come down as revenues dry up. Salaries and pensions are too high now. Kansas is more likely to change the constitution on education funding than increase taxes.

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CorkyHundley 3 years, 3 months ago

The government will take care of you. Let the transformation work a little while longer. Everything will be fine. Government mandated Dudecare should free up money that can be used for all kinds of things.

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Timothy Eugene 3 years, 3 months ago

Here's an interesting tidbit many of you might not realize. In order to renew their teaching license, teachers are required to eventually go back and get a Masters Degree. It's required for renewal! Masters Degree = more pay. That's another reason Kansas spends so much on education. Having a Masters doesn't make a better teacher, either you got it or you don't, but with that extra piece of paper, now you make a lot more money. Drop the requirement for renewal that a teacher has to get a Masters Degree, and see how much money the state can save in salaries over the long run.

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Edward Coan 3 years, 3 months ago

I'm not in favor of funding students who are here illegally. Their parents have no right to use up our resources, and I don't want to pay taxes for illegals to live here.

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volunteer 3 years, 3 months ago

Seven to eight percent reduction is what one superintendent told me he heard from the state honchos last week.

Topeka's suprintendent cut some Ad building positions and combined some others to save $700 thousand. He also was adamant during negotiations that teachers begin making token payment, $18 twice a month, for their health insurance.

It seems like Dr. Doll could do the same if he wanted to leave a bigger share of the budget for classroom supplies, although I thought it was up to the students to supply their own pencils.

Step up, Frank Harwood, and give your boss some suggestions.

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yourworstnightmare 3 years, 3 months ago

"Kansas parents fear more school budget cuts"

More than they fear paying taxes?

It isn't free. Please remind your GOP legislatures that there is no free ride. You must pay for state services one way or the other. Too many who vote republican seem to forget this simple lesson. They want it all without having to pay for it.

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Edward Coan 3 years, 3 months ago

Said day indeed when we have to use volunteers as teachers.

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Jason Bailey 3 years, 3 months ago

Oh yes, gccs14r, the Dems certainly have been stellar as a point of comparison. When are people going to wake up and realize that both parties are the same, just marketed differently.

They both spend like mad, they both continue engaging in wars, they both have no idea what to do for the economy, they both do absolutely nothing to stave off real issues (like speculative investing in oil futures which jacks up the prices)...they are mirror images of one another.

Get off the Dem vs. Repub kick. That was en vogue back in 1980; now both parties have been revealed to be what they really are.

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Steve Jacob 3 years, 3 months ago

Love the Blame game. I think the state will change the laws, and let the people decide how much they want to spend on schools. If your city wants to vote and pay more for your schools, go for it. Does it make for rich/poor schools across the state, sure. But that's what's going on now.

And wait until you see how much tuition goes up for KU.

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gccs14r 3 years, 3 months ago

If parents are worried about education, why do they keep sending Republicans to Topeka? It's clear that decades of Republican rule haven't improved either education or the business climate in Kansas, so why keep putting the same bunch of idiots back in office time and time again?

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