Journey of a Superintendent: The Piano

“Once to every man [woman] and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side . . .”

 From the Hymn, “Once to Every Man and Nation,” words by James R. Lowell


Dr. Cynthia Lane, Superintendent of the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools

Dr. Cynthia Lane, Superintendent of the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools

Recently, the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools (KCKPS) has been under attack for replacing a 50-year-old piano, one that was used every day in instruction. Our critics contend that we are wasting taxpayer money. In fact, some have gone so far as to say that our purchase of a grand piano is justification for cutting funding to public schools, and is a reason to change how schools are funded in Kansas. No, I am not kidding! Our piano purchase is under attack. Someone watching all of this grandstanding from afar, might interpret this to mean, stop buying pianos for schools and the state revenue shortfall will be solved!

Here is the truth – about the piano, about the tax cuts, about the future of Kansas: The 50-year-old piano we replaced served tens of thousands of students with valor. There comes a point when an instrument, used by high school students over five decades, can no longer be patched and repaired. So the Board of Education replaced it with a new instrument, considered by the experts to be a good piano, but far short of the Cadillac it has been compared with. The real truth is that our state leaders appear to put the “March to Zero” tax reduction plan (which benefited mostly the wealthy, along with business owners) in front of funding for schools, or any other service that is part of state government’s responsibility. It’s not about a piano, or any other expenditure that supports education of our future workforce. It’s about the future of Kansas.

Every generation has a pivotal moment, when we have to figure out where we stand and what we value. For us, here in Kansas, we are at one of those pivotal moments. All of us are going to have to decide: Are we going to continue to sit on the sidelines, and let decades of commitment to excellence in education for all students be destroyed? It seems to me we need to ask ourselves if we are going to allow the blame for the budget problems to be placed on school districts, districts that are working in a fiscally-challenging environment to ensure students receive high quality education? Or are we going to have the courage to stand up and acknowledge that the problem is our tax policy? Are we going to allow our system of public schools to devolve into one where a few are able to get what they need, and everyone else is left with the scraps?

It has been reassuring that in the midst of all this rhetoric, one of our students wrote, and other students signed, a letter to the Governor, asking him to put actions in place that support education for all students in Kansas. We also received a wonderful letter and a small donation from a teacher in Wichita in support of our decision to value arts and music education. I have received dozens and dozens of emails, texts, and tweets in support of public schools. These actions give me hope that education continues to be a high priority for Kansans.

As leaders, we must recognize that good intentions do not always turn out as we hope they might. It reminds me that when I was growing up, I was taught that when you make a mistake, you own that mistake, and you work hard to make things right. Now is our moment to decide, and to urge our legislators to fix the mistakes they have made, and the problems they have created. “It’s Up to Us.”


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50 Responses to Journey of a Superintendent: The Piano

  1. Deanne Moore says:

    Beautifully written!

  2. Jean Ney says:

    I’m very proud of the both the support for the arts and the fiscal integrity of the Kansas City Kansas Public Schools. Dr. Lane, you continue to exemplify stellar leadership. Thank you. Thank you.

  3. Paula Sayles says:

    This is very well-stated! Study after study has shown the importance of music in education. Anyone who has ever taken piano lessons knows the importance of playing on real pianos and different kinds of pianos. Replacing a 50-year-old piano should NEVER be a controversial move for ANY school district. The State Legislature has been drastically underfunding education for decades now. Brownback is attempting to drive the last nail into the coffin. There should be hundreds of thousands of angry parents protesting at the Statehouse daily. What is being perpetrated in this State is an outrage.

  4. Bill Johnson says:

    Seems to me we could cut a big chunk of our budget by reducing admin salaries. $15M a year and your own $225,000 salary. You make more than 2x our governor and almost as much as the president.

    I think there is plenty of room for cuts myself.

    • Dee says:

      Oh…the governor is so poor. That must be why he needs all that money from the Koch brothers.

    • Megan Rahe says:

      Given Dr. Lane’s huge responsibility for a district this size and her educational attainment and professional experience, her salary is actually a bargain. Sure, someone will always be upset when someone earns more than the person complaining does, but look at the differences in responsibility, experience and costs (both time and money) to attain the required credentials for a particular position.

      • Glenda says:

        Dr. Lane IS running a small town. From feeding the residents to cleaning up after them. Then keeping them healthy, providing mental health, speech services, communicating in multiple languages, repairing buildings, surfacing parking lots, heating and cooling… The list goes on. People see that education takes a huge chunk of the state budget. What they don’t see is that schools also serve more Kansans than other areas in the budget.

    • Bill Thompson says:

      So lets say we start cutting administrators and/or administrator salaries. Just who do you think is going to run our school districts and schools? Most of your urban school districts are the size of small to medium size corporations in terms of employees and budgets. As it is in the corporate world you get what you pay for and if you want excellence you have to pay for it or someone somewhere else will!

      • Megan Rahe says:

        I concur, Mr. Thompson. Many think that because they have attended a school that they have concrete knowledge of how it should be run without realizing all the intricate nuances involved in such an organization. I’ve been to the medical doctor’s office many times in my life, but I am certainly not a physician.

      • Joel Porter says:

        Well said Bill!

    • Kelly Gene says:

      I love the logic…business CEOs who get salaries at 100 time the average employee “deserve” this because it is “what the market demands.” But in education, paying for someone exceptional is wasted money and something to cut. Dr. Lane could make more at a non-profit…we should be thankful she is willing to take this salary to make our state a better place.

    • Tash Davis says:

      She deserves to make more than the president.

    • Dave Warner says:

      I am an principal/administrator in a small central Kansas community. I admit in this community I am one of the higher wage earners compared to others who live here. I make $64,000 a year. Let me tell you what this over paid administrator does in part to earn my paycheck;
      1. I work anywhere from 70 – 85 hours a week. (No overtime). I cover activities and games.
      2. I also oversee our districts Title 1 program and am the district test coordinator.
      3. Because my district does not have enough money to fund our school outdoor learning center, I look for and write grants to help operate this student center program.
      4. I am responsible for about 220 students and 30 staff members.
      5. I am responsible for a building that was in part built in 1922 and added on to in 1975. I am always trying to find ways to keep our facilities up and running and most importantly safe for my students.
      6. I spent 12 years of my life attending universities so I could serve the children of this state, help them develop into productive adults.
      Bill – I will not bore you with all the other over paid things I do. I would invite you to spend a week in any administrator’s shoes. Then judge how over paid we are.

      • Dannah says:

        So true!!! My husband is an “assistant principal” in a small town. On top of his assistant principal duties he also teaches shop classes (grades 7-12), is STUCO sponsor, a class sponsor, SKILLS USA sponsor, helps with maintenance issues (i.e., scrubs toilets, unclogs drains, mows grass, fixes anything broken in the aging buildings in order to save the district $ and keep students safe), attends a crazy number of activities with teams as Administrator in Charge, acts a coach at times (was a cheer coach for a game once-a man with no cheer knowledge whatsoever), assists with numerous technology issues, and whatever else needs a “warm body”! The list could go on and on! As far as pay, he easily works 60-70 hours weekly (spends many weekends working for school) and makes an embarrassing salary. Let’s just say he’s not the bread winner even though he works may more hours than I do! He is very dedicated to this district and the students he serves. But just like many others, he is burning out! We’ve seen a number of great teachers and staff leave our district because they are also tired of working so hard for very little pay and respect. And now with more budget cuts coming our way, they will be asked to do more with less $$$. AGAIN!!! Who will we hire to do all this work when they “greats” leave for better paying jobs (in both education and the private sector)? And will they be as dedicated to our kids? I’m fearful that we are killing the education system (along with many more besides ed) in this state! Who is going to fix it? How will it affect the future of Kansas? When will we “feel” all if this this? So many questions!

    • Elaine L. Mills says:

      Considering what a dismal job Brownback has done as governor he deserves a salary of $0.00 since he is so handsomely paid by the Koch Brothers. Considering what a great job the Superintendent is doing, she is earning every cent she is paid. The truth is that she is right on in the above statements. I am betting that you would not be so quick to condemn the price of the piano with what it costs to do the BOYS FOOTBALL AND BASKETBALL TEAMS and what their coaches make.

    • Judy Pfeifer says:

      Then you should actually spend the next year in a school (at no salary please, since we need to enact more cuts) and work every day doing what needs to be done with little or no resources. Then come back here and tell everyone of your experience.

  5. Jeff Jordan says:


  6. les watson says:

    You wonder what the district spent on football equipment. Not that they shouldn’t have it just make better press to pick on a piano.

  7. TJF says:

    How many billions of tax payer dollars have been thrown at education, only to be “not enough” year after year? You’re not struggling for budget if you purchase a $50k piano instead of opting for the less expensive option; IE the electronic version. Yeah, they have those now and sound really good and can educate just as well if not better. That’s just one example of irresponsible spending and is the point here.

    Oh, and tax cuts arent just for the wealthy. After working through TurboTax, take a look at your tax returns and how much you paid in taxes, then consider the other taxes you pay before you speak out of turn.

    • Sd frank says:

      Speak out of turn? Sounds a bit like you’re attempting to put someone in a place where you are above them. Something tells me you need a big reality check. And less of a sexist attitude.

    • Ward Rowe says:

      You obviously don’t play an instrument, and you certainly know nothing about pianos or playing them, otherwise you would understand the huge gap between even the best digital piano and the mid-level acoustic piano that $47K will buy. You should educate yourself before you continue to speak out of turn.

    • Tash Davis says:

      You obviously do not understand school finance and the state formula, either.

    • Jeff Bowles says:

      “You’re not struggling for budget if you purchase a $50k piano instead of opting for the less expensive option; IE the electronic version.”

      And you are not paying attention to capital budget purchases. A real piano, kept in good repair, will last decades longer than several of your electronic things purchased over time.

      The students hear the difference, and before you get into a “funding for the arts – is it right?” conversation, you should realize that the average student count of a chorus or band class can be twice the size of a math or english class. Defunding arts means more teachers or larger class sizes in the replacement non-art classes.

      Lastly, if you assumed that they planned over time to eventually replace the piano, you would probably be correct. It will be used – this is a bet – elsewhere in the building for performances, and an electric keyboard-toy will not suffice for that.

  8. Brian says:

    Bellyaching about our great school system in Kansas, where simple things, like evolution may or may not be taught. I do not feel bad for the parents or the schools. I only feel sorry for the students, regardless of pianos, tax cuts or whatever the current complaint is.

  9. Eric Hansen says:

    Bill Johnson, you are an absolute imbecile… The Koch brothers pay their top execs millions and you’re going to call out Dr. Lane? Shame on you… Our governor is making decisions daily that benefit the wealthy and you’re buying the rhetoric… Wake up…

  10. Sylvia says:

    Dr. Lane does more for this school district, this community and this state than all the legislators together. If she were to be paid for all the hours she gives, she would be making closer to $1,000,000. Be thankful we have such a caring, kind and brilliant star for our community. Thank you Dr. Lane for your immeasurable gift!

  11. David Colburn says:

    When I was an early childhood administrator, I bought some $110 trikes, and people raised heck because Walmart had trikes for around $30. The Walmart trikes were designed for one kid to use at home, not 40 kids using them every day. The $110 trikes had roughly a 10-year lifespan, while at best the Walmart trike would last two. So, I’d have had to spend $150 minimum for Walmart trikes over that period (not counting inflation) that I spent $110 for instead. So, roughly, I saved about 26 percent by making what some folks though was a crazy $110 investment. 12 years later, the $110 trikes were still in use.

    The lifespan of this $47,000 piano can reasonably be expected to be, with appropriate maintenance, between 40 and 50 years. At 40 years, that’s $1,175 a year. I think that’s a reasonable expense for providing the type of instrument that should be in a quality fine arts program. And, it’s been reported this was paid for from capital outlay funds – Kansas law prohibits the use of capital outlay funds for personnel — this money couldn’t have been used for a teacher, as Brownback said. Frankly, he owes this district an apology for publicly saying they should have spent that money on a teacher — they couldn’t have if they wanted to.

    And as for the superintendent’s salary? There are almost 22,000 students in the district, with an overall budget of just over $360 million. The superintendent’s salary isn’t even a drop in the bucket, The district’s percentage of budget devoted to administration is only 9 percent (that’s from the KS Dept. of Education).

    The legislature has for years consciously chosen to ignore its constitutional responsibility to equitably fund schools in Kansas. CONSTITUTIONAL RESPONSIBILITY. And the governor has deliberately chosen to make education a scapegoat, and totally distorts and twists budget figures to suggest education funding has increased, when in fact the $$$ schools can use for instructional costs has been dwindling. There are other measures being considered by the legislature that would defy constitutional obligations and cut education spending more in this budget year, and even more in subsequent years. This is sheer madness, IMHO.

  12. James Carmack says:

    I would like to applaud the courage and professional demeanor of Superintendent Dr. Lane, these comments will not go unnoticed by her superiors, the Governor and the Board of Regents. The latter being stacked with ultra conservative appointees of the ultra conservative Governor of Kansas. These cuts in Kansas education are direct gifts to the wealthiest Kansans most of whom didn’t even request via state tax laws.

    So, Thank you Dr. Lane for standing up and speaking the truth on this matter. Your detractors have no concept of your dedication and worth to KCKPS.

  13. Sally Murguia says:

    I agree with Dr. Lane 100%. When asked why the school board’s investments in USD500 schools are important to her, my sophomore daughter replied “It meant that we still mattered.” “I go to a public school and we should still have access to the tools of education that those at a private school get,” she added. She explained that the quality of education now affects the quality of our leaders and laborers in the future. A 16-year-old understands the importance of education for our society, for our democracy. It is up to those of us who are adults now to show that those values aren’t just a paragraph in a history book, but our contemporary way of life.

  14. Andrea Richardson says:

    If we were all equally focused on students there’d be no argument!
    Thank you Dr. Lane and USD500!

  15. Rita Shelley says:

    I have to ask. Cost of renovating a gymnasium floor? Athletic field maintenance?

  16. A Fellow Public Servant says:

    As a fellow public servant, working in higher education here in our great state, I salute you. Not only for your service to our state, but for your courage to stand up to Gov. Brownback, especially given the reprisals his critics have felt in the past. As he does happen to be the person who signs my paychecks and our new academic “freedom” policy applies to myself and my co-workers, I must necessarily remain anonymous.

    Our students need a proper education, one that teaches them to think. An education that includes not only math and science (as important as they are), but also literature and the fine arts. When a child finds something that inflames their passion, it benefits everyone, but especially that child’s future.

    Our children are our future. We can’t balance the state budget on their back. It’s time for those who have benefitted from the system to give a fair share back so that we as a society can continue to improve ourselves.

  17. Charles Ridley says:

    The plain fact is that we have irresponsible Congressmen and a Governor that has his head up his butt that choose to put the glory of Republicans death throes trickle down economics illusions over practical economic practices, which makes for them looking for fall guys to blame their mistakes on and a way to avoid not resigning for their utter inaptness.

  18. Jamie xiong says:

    Thank you Dr. Lane for supporting your students. I just have to add that along with many other students, the retired piano from Sumner was what got me through high school. It has definitely done it’s job. Sumner deserves a new grand piano.

  19. marcie mccray says:

    Well said, Dr. Lane. Thank you for your courage and commitment to KCKPS. We stand with you.

  20. Caroline Meek says:

    Thank you, Dr. Lane! I’m a sophomore at Sumner and I’m in Chorale. We do use the piano daily, and hearing our accompanist play it yesterday pretty much brought me to tears. I also had the chance to play it, and it is absolutely beautiful. That experience, as well as watching some of the other teachers play, has convinced and inspired me to keep playing and not give up piano. Know that your choices do matter, and that this, as well as all the arts programs, can change lives.

  21. Tina Tribble says:

    My daughter serves her country as an Army musician. #ourschoolhadapiano

  22. John Altevogt says:

    Perhaps Superintendent Lane can explain the millions of dollars of waste found in this state audit of her school district.

    Could the Kansas City School District Achieve Significant Cost Savings by Improving Resource
    Management, and What Effect Would Those Actions Have?
    The Kansas City School District Volunteered for an Audit of Its Operations to Help Identify Potential
    Efficiencies and Cost Savings …………………………………………………………………………………………………… 7
    Reducing Custodial and Maintenance Salaries or Staff Positions Could Save the District Between $2.3
    Million and $4.4 Million Annually ……………………………………………………………………………………………… 11
    Reducing Certain Administrative and Food Service Salaries to Market Rates Could Save the District
    Between $100,000 and $170,000 Annually ………………………………………………………………………………. 15
    Using Virtual Technology, the District Could Eliminate 48 Network Servers and Save up to $35,000 and
    2,300 Hours of Staff Time Annually …………………………………………………………………………………………. 15
    Increasing Procurement Card Usage Could Generate up to $120,000 in Additional Revenue Annually … 16
    Outsourcing Transportation Services or Reducing Transportation Staff Wages Could Save the District up
    to $2.1 Million Annually ………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 17
    Closing One Middle School Could Save the District an Estimated $1.4 Million Annually in Reduced Staff
    Salaries and Utility Costs ……………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 20
    The District Does Not Have a Process for Effectively Evaluating and Managing Efficiency……..…………23
    The District’s Accounting Policies and Practices Were Not Adequate for the Size of the District’s
    Operations ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 25

    • David Colburn says:

      So I guess you don’t consider the 15-PAGE RESPONSE FROM THE SUPERINTENDENT included in the report you linked as the explanation you’re looking for?

      I think it’s exceptionally relevant to note the district VOLUNTEERED for this audit specifically to identify ways they could be more efficient. The audit made recommendations, and the district has outlined steps it is taking in response. Rather than take them to task for “waste,” the district should receive kudos for taking a proactive step to identify and act upon areas where it can save.

    • Matt says:

      No, no, no. You can’t use math, or logic, or show actual numbers here. You can’t point out how the educational system is flawed. This is simply not allowed because the Koch Brothers can’t be blamed for the poor quality of student education.
      I agree with the Democrats here, Brownback is out of line touting a piano as wasteful. His mistake. There are tons of actual numbers to support real spending follies.
      Personally, I’d re-write the entire curriculum to teach the student how to lead, show them how to handle money and most importantly, think for themselves. A decade after graduating and many of the people I know who went to D500 from all backgrounds, fail in those categories.
      I don’t see either side actually caring about the well-being of the students, or their futures. I see one side poking blame at the other…and the other doing the same. The time for whining is over. Let’s get a solution to solve our counties education problem so the children grow up to ve successful members of society.

    • I Teach Too says:

      The word that stands out in most of those audit statements is the word “could.” Every corporation, job field, sector “could” cut back or cut out things from a budget, but we have children we think about, and the repercussions of these areas that “could” be changed or eliminated is not the same as when dealing with machines or adults. Come visit a class! Go talk to teachers! While you are admiring the hall artwork, the massive buildings where teaching and learning take place, ask what has been purchased with personal money, or fundraisers, or other monies not provided by the state. The amount is staggering. Ask the teachers/social workers/counsellors what services are offered to students that weren’t available in school 10 or 15 years ago, but are now considered necessary because parents can’t provide. Instead of attacking, or criticizing, come see with your own eyes the wonderful things we do every day in the classroom.

  23. KS Educator says:

    I agree with those of you who say that just because someone has gone to school they think they know all the ins and outs of education. I am sorry I am an educator and I continue to see what all the cuts are doing to our children and it scares me. I am also a parent and if our state system continue downs this path I won’t feel comfortable putting my own children in public school for the fear that they will not be prepared for the future. I teach 3rd grade and I have student who still read on a Kindergarten level but we don’t have funds to offer extra support or my students can’t tell time or still struggle with adding and subtracting. How do these children have hope to go to college when we keep cutting money to help them, it scares me to know that they can’t tell time I hope they don’t become a nurse and have to give out meds people will die, because our Governor thought cutting education was were we needed to save money. I would love our Governor to spend a day in my shoes, and wear all the hats that I do. You wouldn’t survive and you’d be asking where is all the support for these students well you took that all away. We are falling our children and it is said how are they going to be able to make themselves better most of them don’t have much now but if they got a GOOD education they might have a shot!

  24. Kevin says:

    I’m all for the arts and a great educational experience. But I don’t believe that is unattainable with, say, a $10,000 piano.

    The argument that some private schools have such things is irrelevant. There’s always going to be schools and individuals with more. If you have to “Keep up with the Joneses”, there will never be enough money. It’s like my kids saying they need a $200 pair of jeans because a friend has a pair. The $40 pair I buy them is sufficient. The $160 I’ve saved allows us to provide other, more important things.

    Particularly at a time when so many people are struggling. Very few of the people paying property taxes in this district can afford such a luxury.

    I don’t doubt that the superintendent works hard and is great at her job, but I believe her response to this completely inappropriate.

  25. Clay Urbanek says:

    Mr. Brownback is in defiance of a court order to adequately fund public schools. It’s now time to have him arrested and held in contempt and put him in jail with the rest of the legislators, who voted also to cut education spending and defied the same court order.

  26. Pingback: What we can learn from the piano

  27. Kevin says:

    I would like to know, does the common core math
    Cost the schools more than regular style, like I was
    Taught back in the day?? Always wanted to know??

  28. mike says:

    Why is the Piano cost blame being put on the Superintendent? Some body had to requisition it, and/or make a motion to approve it, before she, or anyone else like the board members, can approve the purchase? I think that if it was really thought through, there could have been an alternate way of funding it! Like possibly a GRANT, or Fundraiser /campaign!!! I think some of us see some areas of purchasing, that seems like its overkill, and other areas they could have been spent that on education, or maint., etc……. Not trying to say the children don’t deserve the best, because they do, but they could use the best in other areas of the district as well! So, what does it take to get what you need, or what you want in this district? Does it mean you have to show up at board meetings to get something approved, or make a motion to have something changed etc….?

  29. dennis berndsen says:

    It is my opinion that brownback is owned and operated by the Koch brothers. He is a stooge carrying out their creepy vision.

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