Archive for Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Kansas parents fear more school budget cuts

December 29, 2010


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.”


gccs14r 7 years, 5 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?

Shardwurm 7 years, 5 months ago


Good point. What we need are more Democrats taxing the living Bejeezus out of us while the bloated education system continues to burn every dollar we throw at it and still produce inferior results.

Do you even know how much this state already spends on education? Seriously. Have you looked? Do you know that over have the revenue of the state goes to education?

Let me're either an educator who is crying because they don't make $175,000 a year to work 4 hours a day 9 months a year or you have drank the Kool Aid of someone who does.

Education gets plenty of money. What we need are cuts to the bloated waste that is the public system in Kansas. If you think there isn't any then you are simply out of touch.

gccs14r 7 years, 5 months ago

Tell me when the Democrats last had a majority in the House and Senate and held the Governorship in Kansas.

geekyhost 7 years, 5 months ago

Inferior results compared to what? Compared to private and charter schools in the US? Got news for you, bub. That ain't the case. Nonpublic education gets the same results in the US when socioeconomic situation is accounted for. Compared to other countries? Sure. If you calculate how much we spend per student as a percentage of gross domestic product, we also spend much less than they do.

I'm not sure which job you think anyone is asking for 175k a year for only 4 hours a day, 9 months a year work, unless it's the teabaggy budget dude Brownback hired to squawk "tax cut tax cut" when the Koch brothers pull the string in his back, but the fact that you think teachers work that little shows you really should have spent a little more time in a classroom.

fearsadness14 7 years, 5 months ago

excuse me, but I'm a college student that is a product of the current Lawrence Public School system. My mother is a divorced (read: single) school teacher for USD 497. I take great offense that you think that any educator in this district point blank period works anywhere close to 4 hours a day, 9 months a year. I assure you, she leaves the house no later than 6 am and often returns no sooner than 5 pm, 10 months of the year. The remaining two months of the summer are spent preparing materials for the coming year. If you ask me, and I'm sure you wouldn't considering you come across as a know it all who researches everything, I would say that educators should be earning more than the city's sanitation workers. Do you even know how much they earn? Seriously. Have you looked?

TopJayhawk 7 years, 5 months ago

Then maybe your Mamma needs to change jobs. And quit putting down sanitation workers who's job environment is much more taxing than your momma's.
Typical whining.

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago


Because we clearly don't want to compensate people who do the supposedly important work of educating young people.

katjok 7 years, 4 months ago

I would agree, your comment takes the cake!

Steve Jacob 7 years, 5 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.

Jason Bailey 7 years, 5 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.

yourworstnightmare 7 years, 5 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.

Shardwurm 7 years, 5 months ago

You know the best way to pay for it?

Fire all the tenured teachers and hire one of the thousands of new ones coming out of our fine institutions of higher learning.

You realize there are thousands of qualified teachers without work in the state right? We could scrap every single over-paid babysitter we have and save hundreds of millions of dollars....and not miss a beat in terms of test scores or quality of education.

Your problem is that you believe that more money = better education. It doesn't. If you suck as an educator making $28,0000 a year you're not going to miraculously get better if you make $100k +.

If we spent $80 Billion a year on education in Kansas do you really think the overall achievement would be significantly better? If you do then you're a fool.

Melinda Black 7 years, 5 months ago

Why the hate-on for Kansas teachers? They are hardly overpaid. Kansas is 36th in the nation when is comes to ranking salaries for teachers. Cutting their wages are not the answer to the school funding crunch.

TopJayhawk 7 years, 5 months ago

But where does the per pupil spending rank by state? Teachers have no credibility here, pure and simple. They forfeit their credibility when they have misrepresented the NEA for so many yrs. Teachers and administrators are liers. They are just out to protect their phony-balony jobs at the expense of education in this state.

yourworstnightmare 7 years, 5 months ago

Typical spolied, I-want-it-all-and-don't-want-to-pay-for-it childishness. Grow up and join the real world, shardwurm.

volunteer 7 years, 5 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.

Haiku 7 years, 5 months ago

A straw man appears! He uses misdirection. It isn't working.

Fossick 7 years, 5 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?

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

You mean that we shouldn't have employees of the school system do routine office work, and instead should require parents to do it for free?

And, I think the point in context was that they used to volunteer in other ways that helped, but now are doing those jobs instead.

black_butterfly 7 years, 5 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!

TopJayhawk 7 years, 5 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.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 5 months ago

"They pass themselves off as a student and education advocacy group, when all they are is a self-centered money grubbing union."

Yea, money-grubbing is reserved for the Koch brothers and their lapdog Republicans. It's unseemly for anyone else.

TopJayhawk 7 years, 5 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.

texburgh 7 years, 5 months ago

First, please proof your posts. Unless of course you do and you actually can't spell and don't have a firm grasp of English grammar.

Secondly, don't spout your lies as fact. "We have over 340 school districts." You would have been better served to say, "I think we have over 340 school districts but I didn't actually do any fact checking. I just thought the bigger number would outrage more people."

The truth is that Kansas has fewer than 300. They are disappearing slowly - two or three going away every year for the past few years.

Are there too many? Almost certainly. But presenting your lies as fact interferes with both the discussion and any attempt you make to appear intelligent or understanding of the facts.

Further, before you make a blanket statement about what "should be" perhaps it would be a good idea to examine why some school districts are very small. There is a difference between small by choice and small by necessity. Maybe a drive out into western Kansas would help you understand this. But I doubt it.

TopJayhawk 7 years, 5 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.

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

The legislature has a constitutional responsibility to adequately fund the educational system.

They did a study to determine what would be adequate, then failed to fund it at that level.

The Supreme Court ruled that they must do so.

kinder_world 7 years, 5 months ago

Yes, the legislature has a constitutional responsibility to adequately fund the educational system.

However, the study was flawed. No one knows the true costs of running any school district because they all use different ways of accounting for their expenses. School districts need to all use the exact same accounting program, so all expenses end up in the same category for all schools. That includes extra pay for teachers doing other duties. These monies are not included in basic pay.

The Supreme Court can rule that schools be funded but they have no right to set an amount, that is up to the legislature.

The LOB was the big school districts play money under then Governor Graves administration. It was to have gone away and schools were to live on the money set by legislature. The BIG guys cried and cried, so Graves and legislature allowed it to stay on. The new school legislation further perpetuated this scam by enlarging it into the engorged draining of property tax payer’s money. And the schools still want MORE.

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

If the study was flawed, then the legislature should have conducted a better one.

Once they had conducted it, it was then their responsibility to fund the system accordingly.

TopJayhawk 7 years, 5 months ago

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

usnsnp 7 years, 5 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.

aa469285 7 years, 5 months ago

I love it! A comment defending teachers using misspelled words, poor grammar and poor punctuation.

jafs 7 years, 5 months ago

File it with the many comments attacking teachers that share those same characteristics.

George Lippencott 7 years, 5 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??

Kontum1972 7 years, 5 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?

pace 7 years, 5 months ago

The lottery money Now that is a story of lost money The first $50 million is divided by a formula which first transfers $80,000 to the Problem Gambling and Addictions Grant Fund. Then 85 percent of the balance is transferred to the Economic Development Initiatives Fund, 10 percent to the Correctional Institutions Building Fund, and 5 percent to the Juvenile Detention Facilities Fund. Any receipts in excess of $50 million must be transferred to the State General Fund.

pace 7 years, 5 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.

Kontum1972 7 years, 5 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

pace 7 years, 4 months ago

Are you claiming that in the good old days Dolph Simon's parents didn't care if the school did a good job and had enough resources? That is nuts. I am about the same age and my folks were active and they wanted schools to be modern and have the resources to do a very important job. They watched the school system go from small class sizes and where we walked, those neighborhood schools were closed and my kids went miles to go to mega school. And the real quality of education at the country school and the mega school were based on good teachers and good parents working together. Parents should be part of schools. Sometimes the school didn't appreciate parental participation, but the good teachers and principals did appreciate it. Now the class rooms are crowded and the schools centralized into factories. It was probably only your parents who didn't join the pta or work on school betterment. My Dad had fundraisers so the graduating 8th graders could all go to DC, it was a poor country school but rich in parents. I am sorry your parents ignored your needs. Any time I hear that parents should shut up about their kids and the education, it is a rat speaking.

Jimo 7 years, 5 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?

George Lippencott 7 years, 5 months ago


Define adequate! Bet just about everybody has a different view of what is adequate??

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