Your Turn: Storm bearing down on Kansas schools

I grew up in central Kansas, where (for better or for worse) dark stormy skies were more likely to draw me outside with my dad than send me for cover in the basement. I’ve seen big storms, I’ve cleaned up the mess they leave and I’ve helped rebuild in the weeks and months after. It’s part of the Kansas experience that has shaped me.

Over the past 22 years, I’ve worked in Kansas public schools. Over two decades in any profession, there will be highs and lows — times when you can’t imagine yourself doing anything different and times when you wonder if you’ll be able to make it another six months. But one thing I love about a career in schools is this: Hope is always there. Every fall we welcome new faces to our classrooms. Every spring we watch our graduates spread their wings. There is always something new, something worthwhile, something to remind us that the work we do in our schools matters. Our kids and our families matter.

When I contrast the reasons I love working in Kansas public schools with the stream of news out of Topeka, it’s hard for me to reconcile. It’s hard to make sense of how the Kansas Legislature had months — February, March, April — to write a constitutional funding law and didn’t. To know that they had a day in early June to follow the court’s orders and didn’t. To see our elected officials walk away from their unfinished business, knowing full well that our state’s school system could be shut down if the work wasn’t done by June 30.

As a school superintendent, I get stopped by people at ball games and the grocery store — a quirk of the job that I have always loved. But the lingering threat of a school shutdown has meant far more difficult questions. “Will there be school in August?” “Will I get paid in July?” “Will my family have to move to a state where schools are in session?” The hardest thing about these questions is that I just don’t have answers. We have no way of knowing what the legislature and governor will do — or when.

So in the meantime, we wait. We wait with hope that someone will step up and provide the leadership necessary for a solution. Undoubtedly, leadership is not a yoke for everyone. It carries a weight that some do not want. So in Kansas, here we are — and here we wait.

In Eudora and in districts across the state, we’re planning for what would happen in a shutdown. We plan for all kinds of emergency situations that could happen in our district, but we hope won’t. But no amount of planning can change the fact that Kansas is in uncharted, dangerous territory. A statewide closure of public schools is unprecedented. But every day that passes without honest work toward constitutional law for funding, brings us closer to this reality. This is the painful uncertainty that our Eudora families, employees and community members feel.

When I look around our state today, I can’t help but think of standing on the porch with my dad as a kid, with a storm rolling in. Right now, imagine you’re on your front porch. A massive tornado is on the ground, and it’s headed right for you. As you watch it get closer, all you know is that you might take a direct hit, or you might not. But watching and waiting is terrifying because the reality sets in that either way, there will be damage.

The only difference between that tornado and the school finance events in Kansas is that we can act to control this storm; we can minimize the manmade destruction from Topeka. Are we prepared to speak up as Kansans and demand that leaders in Topeka change the course of this storm? The time is now.