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School efficiency task force chairman says panel has broached sensitive topic of district consolidation

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A task force appointed by Gov. Sam Brownback to make school spending more efficient has broached the politically explosive topic of consolidating school districts, the panel's chairman said Tuesday.

"There really is no way to have a conversation about this without that coming up, however, so we are talking about it," Ken Willard told the Legislative Educational Planning Committee. Willard, of Hutchinson, said he understood that emotions run high around the subject of consolidation, and added that the task force was "not going to go there" when it delivers a report to legislators by the time the 2013 legislative session starts in January.

There are 286 school districts in Kansas and Willard said the question is whether that is an efficient "model for delivering education."

But Willard noted that Brownback has made it clear that he doesn't favor the state forcing consolidation.

State Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, said the only way to save money when consolidating school districts is to shut down schools, and that, she added, has a devastating impact on communities. "When you close buildings, you close the town," she said.

Willard said the task force was looking at several other items, such as the salaries of school superintendents. "Many are paid more than the governor is," he said.

Comments

Gary Denning 2 years, 1 month ago

Schodorf is accurate in her statement about closing buildings to save money rather than just consolidation. The real money is gained by closing attendance centers. Yeah, you could consolidate the schools into one district and maybe save money on a superintendent salary (let's say $90,000). But chances are the supe at a smaller district is also the principal of one of the schools, along with director of food service, transportation, curriculum, etc, etc. you would save the $90,000 but replace that person with a $70,000 principal.

Closing buildings saves money because you can take advantage of economies of scale at the new school. Instead of 50 teachers leading classes averaging 12 students each you would have 30 teachers leading classes averaging 20 students. 20 teachers equals a mil. That is REAL money.

I think one of the best examples of an area where money could be saves is Rice County. It has parts or all of the Lyons, Moundridge, Little River and some other school districts. All the students could fairly easily attend school in Lyons. But if you close the other schools, what happens to Moundridge and Little River? Do they cease to exist?

Willard's statement about superintendents' salaries is kind of a red herring. Those salaries are reasonable when considering the expertise needed and the scope of the job. Any CEO of a business with a mult- million dollar budget and thousands of employees would command a similar salary. The cost of supes is simply a matter of supply and demand.

deec 2 years, 1 month ago

According to Google, it is 44 miles/52 minutes from Moundridge to Lyons. Including winding around to pick up various students in the country, kids would be on the bus 1-2 hours, one way. Is it rational to expect primary students to spend at least two hours per day on the bus?

What about the districts out farther west that are even more spread out?

Joe Berns 2 years, 1 month ago

I don't consider it unreasonable. From 5-12th grade, when I wasn't driving myself in high school, I was on the bus from 6:15 in the morning until 7:50 and the way home from 3:20-4:35. I was at the furthest reach of the school district, but still had to ride the bus because my parents both worked to put food on the table.

chootspa 2 years, 1 month ago

You may not consider it unreasonable, but I do.

deec 2 years, 1 month ago

" Is it rational to expect PRIMARY students to spend at least two hours per day on the bus?"

tolawdjk 2 years, 1 month ago

You might be thinking of Sterling and not Moundridge. Moundridge is in McPherson County and multiple schol districts removed from Lyons. With Inman and Buhler between Moundridge and Lyons I think Moundridge is pretty wel insulated from Rice County.

So lets use LR, and Sterling as the consolidation examples into Lyons. Little River has a K-12 population of 332 (from the records I found). Sterling has 554 and Lyons has 740. Chase is also in Rice Co with about 146 students. So already, with "county" consolidation so just with that in consideration you are taking one school's infrastruction and more than doubling it. I have no idea what size of facilites Lyons has but seriously doubt that all four buildings in use would have that kind of growth room without some kind of expansion or improvement. You also now have almost 1000 kids that now need to be bused. Figure your standard 60 passenger bus for 1000 kids, multiple pick up points and drop offs...Im guessing you are talking 25-30 buses with some probably taking 2 hours to round up the far corners of the county both before and after school.

Consolidation will be fought tooth and nail.

oldbaldguy 2 years, 1 month ago

close these schools and the little towns around them die.

tolawdjk 2 years, 1 month ago

Bingo. Without a school there is zero reason for a little town to exist.

gccs14r 2 years, 1 month ago

The towns are going to die anyway, as towns have done for millenia. Hastening the inevitable is cheaper.

Tracy Rogers 2 years, 1 month ago

Consolidation of schools needs to happen in the east. Most of the counties in the west already have just one school.

Dave Trabert 2 years, 1 month ago

The data disproves Jean Schodorf's comment about closing schools being the only way to reduce costs. Her comment is a scare tactic, not a fact.

Significant efficiencies can be achieved by consolidating administrative and other outside-the-classroom functions like transportation, food service and maintenance. The services need to be provided but the savings comes from eliminating unnecessary and overlapping bureaucracy.

Our recent public opinion poll showed that 65% of Kansans support this concept and only 28% are opposed. Details at www.KansasPolicy.org (top right section of the page, with links to more information and the full questionnaire.)

deec 2 years, 1 month ago

What data? Any credible data not generated by your Koch propaganda machine?

Dave Trabert 2 years, 1 month ago

The data supplied by local school districts. It's not easy to get detailed per-pupil spending amounts by cost center but it can be assembled from various reports on the KSDE site. We've already done the research and posted the data on http://www.kansasopengov.org/SchoolDistricts/SpendingPerPupil/tabid/1271/Default.aspx

Dale Dennis at KSDE will tell you that the data there is accurate.

School districts spent between $2,000 and $13,000 per-pupil on administrative and other current expenses outside the classroom...and that excludes capital and debt. Per-pupil spending on administration alone ranged from $624 to $4,236. Just getting administrative spending down to about $1,000 per-pupil would save over $100 million.

Gary Denning 2 years, 1 month ago

I can already tell that your numbers are full of crap. All you did with your school district figures is to divide the total spending as shown at the Dept of Ed by the number of K-12 students in each district. In Salina, for one example, the district includes, in addition funding for Salina's K12 schools, a special ed coop with 12 OTHER school districts, an adult ed center, and a 3 county Headstart program. And, the special ed spending figures for the Salina District are counted twice, once when the money is received by the school district and again when the coop spends the money on a teacher or bus, etc. The Dept of Education REQUIRES school districts to report all the associated educational entities in their spending numbers, even when the dollars don't go for K-12 kids in the district (and even when it means that the dollars are counted twice).

You guys KNOW what these numbers mean and you continue to publish your charts as if they are accurate and truthful.

Yes, education is expensive. But it doesn't cost what your graph says.

Dave Trabert 2 years, 1 month ago

Costs in special ed co-op host districts are inflated and they are understated in participating districts because KSDE requires data to be recorded in that manner...which should be changed and we've made that recommendation.

But the spending isn't counted twice. The money going from participating districts is recorded as a transfer, which is excluded from expenditures. Expenditures are only recorded once in our data.

It most definitely costs what our graph reflects, which is taken directly from KSDE. Feel free to confirm with Dale Dennis that the expenditures are only counted once and exclude transfers between districts.

deec 2 years, 1 month ago

So how, specifically, does your lobbying firm intend to drop those costs? Will any school buildings be closed? If buildings are closed, how many hours a day do you believe primary children should ride the bus, one way?

Dave Trabert 2 years, 1 month ago

KPI is not advocating closing any school buildings. We are only talking about having less administrative overhead. Sumner County, for example, has seven school districts serving only 3,688 students. The schools can stay where they are but why have 7 payroll offices...7 transportation bureaucracies...etc.

Consolidating outside-the-classroom functions across district lines frees up money for the classroom by eliminating unnecessary overhead.

weeslicket 2 years, 1 month ago

"Consolidating outside-the-classroom functions across district lines frees up money for the classroom by eliminating unnecessary overhead."

so, you now say that any "savings" will be pushed back into classrooms. which means that there really won't be any "savings", just spending the same amount of money a different way. so, your "efficiencies" mean more money for students and teachers, but will cost the state the same amount of money.
got it.

chootspa 2 years, 1 month ago

KPI isn't advocating for closing any school buildings. They only advocate for the death by 1000 cuts methodology of closing school buildings and leaving them available for the crappy corporate charters they'd rather seen in their place.

chootspa 2 years, 1 month ago

Congratulations for asking a bunch of empty talking point generalizations without the need to name specific cuts. The concept that we could somehow save money thought "efficiencies" isn't a hard sell, but the reality of those cuts in practice is quite different.

weeslicket 2 years, 1 month ago

once again, an absolute trabertsy of misinformation from a favorite talking head.

chootspa 2 years, 1 month ago

He learned everything he needed to know about public education by being the general manager of TV stations, so we should all just quiet down and listen to his incredible Koch-funded wisdom.

Bob_Keeshan 2 years, 1 month ago

Good. They should start with Johnson County.

65% of Kansans support the concept because they think it only will apply to the sparsely populated areas. So the majority of voters, who live in the high population areas, support consolidating districts.

Low population areas are not the issue. The high population areas could much more easily be handled by a single district.

But you won't get that analysis from Koch errand boy up there. The Kochs hate small towns and small communities. They want their 80% GOP votes, but other than that they can go to hell.

chootspa 2 years, 1 month ago

The demographic data was strangely hidden. hmmmm. Also note that he didn't ask if anyone supported a progressive income tax to pay for school funding.

The question about efficiencies came after six questions that pushed the Trabert propaganda about funding going up, so the poll was designed to prime respondents into thinking we needed to find cuts and then asked for a hypothetical that didn't involve things people traditionally think about schools needing.

If he'd asked question 7 first, he'd have likely had a different outcome, but then accurate opinion gauging wasn't ever the goal.

Dave Trabert 2 years, 1 month ago

The demographic data is right there in plain sight. Use the scroll bar if necessary.

chootspa 2 years, 1 month ago

Ok, I see it. The biggest support for consolidation came from Wichita and KC. Shocking.

I'm sure you will now address my other points re: how much your qualitative studies suck.

Dave Trabert 2 years, 1 month ago

You're still not reading it accurately. 52% approval of those in Western Kansas support the concept and the biggest support (70%) comes from mostly rural parts of eastern Kansas. No region of Kansas expressed majority disapproval.

chootspa 2 years, 1 month ago

The priming of the first 6 questions had nothing to do with it, I'm sure.

Dave Trabert 2 years, 1 month ago

The concept of consolidating administrations is universally approved across Kansas. 52% support in western Kansas...63% in the Wichita and Kansas City areas....70% in eastern Kansas.

There's really no substantive difference between doing this in high density or low density areas. It should be done universally.

Dave Trabert 2 years, 1 month ago

There were 500 adults in this scientific poll, which has a margin of error at +-4.5%.

deec 2 years, 1 month ago

With that error margin, it's also possible that less than half the western region survey participants approve.

chootspa 2 years, 1 month ago

There were 326 people that, after being primed with six overly long questions insinuating that the school district was overfunded, went on to answer that they either strongly agreed or somewhat agreed with this statement: "To make more money available for classroom instruction, school districts should combine some outside-the-classroom functions with other districts."

What they were not asked was whether or not their kids should ride the bus for over an hour. They weren't asked if cafeteria workers should be paid less or if librarians and school nurses were important to schools. They were asked a vague question that even I'd agree with in concept. If you're primed to believe that cutting the school budget is inevitable, of course we want it to happen from areas outside the classroom! The myth you're perpetuating is a secret treasure trove of areas where cuts can be made without impacting instruction, while in reality, centralizing some of these services is not going to realize the level of savings you claim it will.

The margin of error doesn't account for bad questions, participation refusal, bad ordering of the questions, or overly aggressive interpretation of the data as a mandate to cut the school budget. That's right there in the methodology statement.

chootspa 2 years, 1 month ago

Also note how Dave ignores the criticism of his qualitative methodology that addresses how he primed participants with poorly worded survey questions designed to evoke a given response.

Matthew Herbert 2 years, 1 month ago

A committee focusing on making things more efficient. That's ironic.

gccs14r 2 years, 1 month ago

Consolidate counties (to 12 or so), consolidate school districts to match counties (more or less), and drop all local school boards and let the state Board of Education (made up of PhDs in Education) set curriculum statewide.

gccs14r 2 years, 1 month ago

Why would that be a BOE function at all? If there's a collective bargaining agreement, that should be between the union and the district managment, meaning the Superintendent.

lawslady 2 years, 1 month ago

While I am all for effiencies and being accountable, one of the problems is that success in this arena cannot be measured by simply using an accountant's cost, expense and return rubric. There are intangibles that are gained, but cannot be put on a ledger, from having a school nearby or attending a school (nearby or far away). That is one of the major flaws with having business men (alone) trying to figure out how to run schools. The problem with a lot of the new ideas is that they are not new. Just as with a teenager who thinks their ideas are BRAND NEW AND OMG HOW SMART AM I AND WHY DOESN'T EVERYONE ELSE SEE HOW OBVIOUS THE ANSWERS ARE, so too do many newbies to any field (like lawmakers) think they have it all figured out. Only to realize (we hope) down the road that most things have already been done or tried, and failed in the past. We are where we are now because of the past, and that includes a lot of evolution. I am all for figuring out better ways to do things, as times and needs change. However, going too fast and throwing the baby out with the bath water is how we end up repeating history. People don't want facts. They want their way and they want it now. And we all suffer when our policy makers fail to consider all the facts and history, before making draconian changes.

chootspa 2 years, 1 month ago

This pretty much sums up the problems with Brownback's reforms in a nutshell. If only he were a conservative instead of a radical.

Patricia Davis 2 years, 1 month ago

Yes, it is time to consolidate schools. Yes, it is time to reduce redundancy in college programs. Yes, it is time to reduce to the number of counties in Kansas~we have more counties than California. Yes, some small Kansas towns will cease to exist. Most of the people in these small towns voted republican. Yet most will be surprised to find their way of life is not economically viable and we need to job the dollars going down the drain. Republicans want smaller government. Prove it.

Richard Heckler 2 years, 1 month ago

I thought topeka republicans were against government telling communities how run their business?

And against Big Government interference?

These are the kinds of people who could run a business in the ground. Behind their rhetoric is Vouchers. A money laundering tool that funnels loads of public school tax dollars to private industry.

Larry Sturm 2 years, 1 month ago

You already have science not being taught in schools by cutting revenue and having fewer teachers to teach bigger classes and the children fall through the cracks. consolidating schools is not the answer.

gccs14r 2 years, 1 month ago

Sure it is. The less money spent on administrators and empty buildings, the more money available for classroom instruction.

chootspa 2 years, 1 month ago

Or we could stop giving the Kochs a free ride and use part of their tax money to fund the programs that are important to the state, such as education.

Matthew Herbert 2 years, 1 month ago

"a free ride". I'd be interested in seeing the total sum the Koch Brothers pay placed next to the total sum you pay. Who, in that scenario, would be described as getting the free ride given that they drive on the same roads you drive on and have access to the same parks, police and public schools you have access to

gccs14r 2 years ago

The wealthy have access to and use far more government services than just basic infrastructure.

Richard Heckler 2 years, 1 month ago

Trabert and Brownback are promoting Kansas BIG GOVERNMENT and a high dollar voucher system that funnels tons of public education dollars into corporate schools. Again this is money laundering of the highest order.

It has nothing to do with a better education or fiscal responsibility. Conservatives are on record as poor business mangers and big time reckless spenders as supply side economics provides.

There was nothing wrong with the public education system until conservatives came along and began cutting budgets and painting the system as evil. These corporate "evil minded" politicians see trillions of public school tax dollars that will make more of the 1% wealthier,shareholders happier and owners of the K-12 virtual curriculum even wealthier beyond belief.

The Walton's of Wal-Mart fame and fortune were pushing this nonsense through their personal contact with GW,the Bush family which owns software directly connected to K-12 and Reagan/Bush protege Bill Bennett among the original founders of K-12.

There is no way the voucher corporate school concept will or can provide a better education than the public school system. There is a lot of unfounded rhetoric. We must remember the most reliable source of fraud against government tax dollars is still some in corporate America.

Bill Gates is a public school graduate. The current CEO of Ford is a public school graduate. A lot of our local mayors and other politicians are public school graduates. Tons and tons of successful farmers, business people,doctors and scientists are public school graduates.

So how in the hell can public education be evil?

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