Archive for Monday, May 7, 2012

School priorities

The Lawrence school district’s willingness to dip into its savings to fund other programs undercuts its contention that it must put off considering teachers’ salary proposals.

May 7, 2012


Did the Lawrence school district think its teachers weren’t paying attention when the school board voted on April 22 to spend about $2 million to add teachers and programs?

Just two weeks later, the district’s negotiator told teachers that the district couldn’t possibly discuss teacher compensation packages until it knew how much state funding it would receive this year.

What’s wrong with this picture? School board members didn’t think it was necessary to see what the state funding picture would be before committing to large budget increases for staff and programs, including the extension of full-day kindergarten and the addition of 21 teachers to reduce class sizes. But now they are telling teacher negotiators they have to wait for state funding decisions before considering possible teacher raises.

The fact that board members were willing to use money the district had accumulated in its cash reserves on additional programs and teachers more or less confirms the contention of the Lawrence Education Association negotiators that the district has money to spend on increased teacher salaries. Many funds held by school districts are restricted for specific uses, but it seems that at least some of the money being directed to hiring 21 new teachers could be directed to salary increases, if that were the board’s priority.

The overall funding picture for schools in Kansas is uncertain and relatively bleak. In fact, Superintendent Rick Doll warned board members that current state funding levels would make it impossible to sustain the addition of programs and teachers for more than two or three years.

Lowering class sizes and extending full-day kindergarten to the entire district certainly are positive moves. Perhaps using some of the district’s savings to kick-start those programs now will make them easier to sustain financially later on.

It also is vital that the district have a strong corps of teachers who are paid well enough to want to stay in their jobs. If the district doesn’t feel it can commit to a long-term salary increase, local teachers already have suggested the idea of one-time bonuses that wouldn’t add to the salary base.

Even under the best circumstances, the district probably can’t afford to spend $3 million to fully fund the teachers’ initial salary request. Nonetheless, as the district allocates funds for various program and staff changes, it needs to make sure that teacher salaries are a continuing priority.


Richard Heckler 6 years ago

How many ways are at the disposal of USD 497 to make the existing elementary school buildings solve our problems? Save $3 million on bussing? USD 497 budgets $4-4.5 million to bus students.

Yes USD 497 budgets $4-4.5 million to bus students. The district is charged at a daily rate depending on how many students use the transportation.

Would parents be willing to find other means for getting students to school IF it meant keeping all the schools open,teachers employed and retaining important subject matter/programs?

Think car pooling,family members, The T ,walking and biking etc etc etc.

USD 497 said it needed $3 million in 2011. Are WE USD 497 taxpayers willing to come up with $3 million? Laying off teachers is not the answer.

Public school students use the T as we speak. Can the T provide service to some parents for less money? How many ways can the T assist USD 497 parents.

IF 75% of students were no longer bussed: 75% of $4,000,000 = $3,000,000 (million)

75% of $4,500,000 = $3,375,000

This bus service was not put out for bid to the best of my knowledge. Although the numbers were compared to what other districts were paying. Is this the best we can do?

USD 497 must assume that Brownback will reduce spending on public schools in favor of vouchers supporting “religious” private schools.

Saving three million dollars annually on bus service may be necessary

Richard Heckler 6 years ago

Another method that could be employed would be to stop voting republicans into office! They have long long long term history of NOT supporting public education. Easily documented.

Richard Heckler 6 years ago

Where was the author when $20 million USD 497 tax dollars was being blown on PLAY instead of maintaining taxpayer owned property aka school buildings?

And this:

To the editor:

School Priorities

Let me get this right. The Lawrence school district approved funds for two sports stadiums to be built ($400,000 each) and yet Superintendent Rick Doll discusses teachers not having items they need (Journal-World, page 1A, Oct. 19)? What’s wrong with this picture?

I assumed children went to school to be educated, not to play sports in luxurious facilities. After reading Chuck Woodling’s description of the Free State facilities in his Oct. 20 column, I was disappointed. I understand some of the funds for Free State came from a private donor. Fine. But to me it seems like it’s a matter of “keeping up the with Joneses” and perpetuating a misconception of what is really important in life.

I know sports are important to a lot of kids. Playing a sport does benefit our youths in several ways. Realistically, how many kids are going to play sports professionally? Or even in college? Yet every child needs a solid education. To my way of thinking, the priorities are turned around. It’s quite unsettling.

Michael LoBurgio 6 years ago

How Much Will Brownback’s Tax Plan Cost You?

Governor Brownback is missing the point. If he wanted to cut taxes for EVERY Kansan he would be pushing for property tax relief.

But he doesn’t want to cut your taxes. His idea of a tax cut will actually cause your tax bill to go up.

And it comes at the expense of the schools that you and families in your community depend on. It puts even more of our most vulnerable at risk. It means state workers won’t see a decent paycheck any time soon.

Contact your legislator today and tell them to support tax relief for ALL Kansans. Tell them to focus on property tax relief, and to forget about Brownback’s income tax cuts that will cost most Kansans more than they pay today.

Richard Heckler 6 years ago

Never vote republican again. it's best for USA economics,your retirement program,public education,higher education and jobs.

The problem: republicans have been eliminated from the party by the likes of Brownback and his money supplies such as:

no_thanks 6 years ago

Merrill you are seriously whacked! Your belief that Democrats have all the answers and that their reign has been best for the USA is simply fallacy. This includes times when Democrats held the majority in the House and Senate when their was a US President. Who is to blame during those times? Instead of blaming one party or the other, why not attack the system. Or better yet, lets find strong independent candidates who can vote in the best interest of the Country rather than what their respective caucus says they should.

tbaker 6 years ago

Before anyone gets in a big hurry to have government take more money from citizens to spend on "education? perhaps some simple research and analysis needs to be done by the school board. How about a nice briefing illustrating what a great job additional funding would do raising test scores? Lowering the appalling drop-out rate? Increasing the number of 9th graders that actually graduate on time? Did they illustrate how current per-student costs are producing equal to or greater than academic performance found in similar measures of private school performance? Did they provide a single performance metric to justify additional funding?

Of course not.

All anyone has to do is a brief examination of per-student funding over the last 40 years and compare that to graduation rates and academic performance. You'll quickly see that on a per-student basis, funding for public schools has steadily increased, while acedemic performance has steadily decreased.

The most recent NAEP assessments indicate that less than one third of U.S. fourth graders are proficient in reading, mathematics, science, and American History.

•More than half of low income students cannot even demonstrate basic knowledge of science, reading, and history. •U.S. eighth graders ranked 19th out of 38 countries on mathematic assessments and 18th in science. •U.S. twelfth graders ranked 18th out of 21 countries in combined mathematics and science assessments.

Public schools should stand or fall on performance, or the tax payers should be given the option to take their tax money and spend it on sending their children to a private school that out-performs the public school they are currently forced to use. After all it is about the children, not the politicians or the teachers union.

KSManimal 6 years ago

"over the last 40 years "

Yes, per pupil funding has increased over the last 40 years. So has everything else - it's called "inflation." Now, if you'd like to share some data as to where our per-pupil funding stands relative to inflation and overall economic conditions; perhaps you'd have a leg to stand on.

Furthermore, 40 years ago there was not a single school district wired for the 21st century computer age. Today, they have to be just to function. Do you think computer infrastructure and software licensing all come free? They don't.

Furthermore, 40 years ago; schools weren't air conditioned. Nor did they require state-of-the art fire alarms and fire suppression systems. None of these things are free.

40 years ago, bus fuel wasn't $4/gallon. Health insurance wasn't expected of employers, nor did it cost $400 - $500 per month like it does now.

40 years ago, perhaps average scores were higher and perhaps "graduation" rates were higher - that sort of thing is expected when the least academically-able students didn't even START high school. If schools keep more students in school longer, there is no doubt that "average" performance will drop. Want high scores? All you gotta do is toss out the lower half of the student body and voila - a Texas Miracle.

Any illusion of private schools "out-performing" public ones is simply the result of selection of students, and nothing more. Period.

tbaker 6 years ago

You are wrong. Competition leads to improvement in our education system like it does every time it is tried. A government monopoly doesn't educate. More money won't help. Education spending since 1970 has nearly tripled, but test scores have remained stagnant. School choice promotes student achievement. Examples abound. The US is falling farther behind every year and you make excuses. Are you part of the solution?

KSManimal 6 years ago

"Spending since 1970 has nearly tripled" is a meaningless statement unless you put it into context of inflation (there must be an echo in here....).

Competition doesn't lead to improved educational outcomes. It leads to the same thing it leads to in the rest of the free market: profitable businesses for some, out-of-business for others. And if you think choice leads to QUALITY outcomes, just look at what consumer choice has done to our food industry - we're the fattest nation on Earth.

Here's some reading for you, in three parts:

kuguardgrl13 6 years ago

There are times in economics when "monopolies" are actually better and more efficient than competition. Think about water. A majority of communities have one water company whether it's the city or a private company. How would it be if we had three or four different pipe systems in Lawrence? What if you decide to change water companies? It's not like simply going to a different store or a different company. Schools serve our CHILDREN. Sure, graduation rates are down and drop-out rates are up because schools are trying their best to give all children an opportunity to get a decent education. Allowing failing schools to close will only make it that much more difficult for low-income children to improve their situations in life. Kids whose parents can afford to send them to public school don't need help. It's also not fair to compare US schools to those in China. Chinese schools are predominantly homogenous. They don't have to educate students who don't speak Chinese or have special needs. In other countries such as Japan and in Europe, students are tracked into academic areas where they will be most successful starting in high school, much like we have different majors in college. They don't force math upon students who aren't good at it and won't use calculus in life. Here, we expect our students to be well-rounded. We try to give them a basic knowledge in a number of areas before sending them to college or into the workforce. If schools were competitive, who would decide what should be learned by the time a student graduates? There has to be some regularity between schools. We have enough problems with students changing schools even within districts. LHS and Free State don't even run on the same daily schedule. And how can we possibly expect our students to "achieve" if we can't keep competent teachers in the classrooms? And I'm sorry to say, but NCLB is on the way out (THANK GOD). Obama is hopefully returning to a system where states can set standards that are appropriate for their schools, given that the feds approve whatever the system is. We've proved that not all 4th graders across 50 states are the same. Learning can't be measured with statistics. It's a quality, not a quantity. We've seen much better results with methods other than standardized exams that cause anxiety among students and staff. Teachers should be allowed to teach what information they feel is most interesting and valuable to students. I suffered through 13 years of public schools during the birth of NCLB. I can say that it never once improved me as a student. Privatizing schools would only add to the mess and create something resembling our healthcare debacle in reverse. Leave the public schools be. They're not perfect, but we do the best we can with the resources we're given. It hardly matters whether you went to public or private school once you're in college or out in the workforce.

Dave Trabert 6 years ago

FYI, USD 497 has one of the largest cash reserve buildups in the state, having gone from $5.3 million in 2005 to $33.1 million last July. Those numbers do not include cash set aside for capital projects, debt service or in federal funds.

Details on carryover cash reserves for USD 497 and all other districts can be read and downloaded at You can also see that their Current Operating Ratio (cash in current operating reserve accounts divided by that year's current operating costs) grew from 6.4% for the 2006 year to 28.7% for 2011. It is likely even higher for 2012. FYI, this data is only available on KansasOpenGov.

chootspa 6 years ago

For posterity's sake, Dave Trabert is spamming us with links to his very own Koch-sponsored website where he takes Koch money and says what the Kochs want to hear. He's in favor of privatizing the education system and weakening the social safety net.

4getabouit 6 years ago

Dave "Koch" Trabert. The Big Woopee Cushion! All hot air.

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