Journey of a Superintendent: The Rest of the Story

Dr. Cynthia Lane, Superintendent of the KCK Public Schools

Dr. Cynthia Lane,
Superintendent of
the KCK Public Schools

Some will recall the famous talk radio personality Paul Harvey. Mr. Harvey was known to be a conservative, but nonetheless, through his reporting, he reached people from all perspectives. He had the uncanny ability to tell stories that narrated history and questioned our present circumstances, to which all generations could seemingly relate.

I wonder how he would tell the story of what is important to Kansans? If one simply follows the news releases, or Twitter feeds, it would be easy to conclude that lower corporate income tax, relaxed gun control, and smaller government are priorities. Somewhere down the list, education would be mentioned, but not as an economic driver. Education was once touted (and for many of us still is) the reason to live, work and raise a family in Kansas. Today, the political sound bites admonish education for consuming too much of the state’s budget and reportedly not producing college and career ready citizens.

I would imagine that Mr. Harvey might tell us “the rest of the story.” Education in Kansas is ranked fifth in the country, while spending is 34th. What is worse, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, since 2008, Kansas has reduced spending on public education by an inflation-adjusted $950, more than all other states except Alabama and Wisconsin. Mr. Harvey might remind us that education is the number one economic driver for any thriving community or state. He likely would be quick to point out that the public education system is a reflection of the health and well being of the economy of our communities and state.

What does the recent decision to fund schools using a block grant system say about the health of Kansas? The block grant is not a grant at all; rather, it is a cut to essential revenue we count on to fund schools across the state. The block grant left us dealing with a $500,000 reduction in the current fiscal year. The block grant means we won’t receive additional funds for the increase in enrollment we experienced this year, nor for any increases in the next two years. KCKPS has grown between 200 and 800 students a year for the last five years. This year alone, we grew by 400 students. That is close to $3 million that we did not receive for students we are currently serving. To put it simply, the block grant ignores the growth in student population, and eliminates any provision to provide additional funding to support the special learning needs of at-risk, bilingual, or career and technical education programs.

Listening to the rhetoric, one would believe schools across Kansas are receiving increased funding. The truth is that any increases have gone not into classrooms, but rather into the public employees’ retirement system, and into statutorily required property tax relief for taxpayers. It’s certainly critical to fund the pension funds, and residents of Wyandotte County deserve property tax relief, but let’s not call these funds an increase to public education. Mr. Harvey might say . . . “and now you know – the rest of the story. Good day.”

It’s Up to Us!

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7 Responses to Journey of a Superintendent: The Rest of the Story

  1. Dave Trabert says:

    The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notoriously distorts the truth and excludes data. Kansas Policy Institute debunked the report referenced by Dr. Lane back in 2013.

  2. bev furlong says:

    #pot kettle! Nice try, Mr Trabert. I noticed that KPI often has experts with credentials only from KPI so I question the veracity of your debunking claim.

    • Dave Trabert says:

      That has nothing to do with my comment. CBPP is ignoring a lot of facts that contradict their claims.

      • David A. Smith says:

        Mr. Trabert,

        Surely you have more valuable ways to spend your time (and your benefactor’s money) than to troll the Internet and make disparaging comments on blog posts that don’t support your goal of cutting taxes for the wealthy and defunding government services, including public education.

        However, since you choose to do so, at least try to come up with a little more “evidence” to support your claims than a blog post that contains NO citations (while criticizing one that contains 18). And while you’re at it, you might want to avoid the obvious charge of hypocrisy when you criticize somebody else for being “deliberately misleading” in their work, when YOU repeatedly choose data in ways that support your goals, even if those choices dramatically distort the truth. (A good example of that would be your claim, in your blog and elsewhere, that “state funding is increasing this year under the new block grants” when everyone understands that the “Block Grants” make no provision for increases in student population or in student needs, increase the disparity between wealthy districts and others, and do NOT increase the money available for districts to spend on classroom instruction.)

        You use an interesting phrase in your blog, “funded through state authority,” which allows you to count as state funding money that is raised locally, precisely because the state has abdicated its constitutional responsibility to provide suitable funding for public education (as three different court cases have determined.) You also conveniently ignore the fact that the impact of pushing the state’s constitutional requirement off to local districts serves to widen the gap between districts that “have” and districts that “have not.”

        The funding formula that Kansas has had for more than 20 years directly connects what it costs to educate individual students to how districts are funded. The “Block Grants” that you support make NO connection between student needs and school funding; they merely save the state money (even if doing so violates the constitution.) As I said earlier, they make NO provisions for increases in student population or need (and in KCK, we grew by 400 students in the CURRENT school year, and have not received additional funds for the services we are currently providing for those students, nor do we expect to receive any in the future.) Under the old formula, and including weighting for poverty, English Language Learners, etc., that would be an additional almost $3 million that we have not received for this year, and will not receive for the next two years (and that figure does not include any addition students that we receive in 2016 or 2017.) You, of course, do not include this loss of funding for students we should get funded to serve (and will serve anyway), when you calculate that we are getting more money under the Block Grants, do you?

        Our goal in the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools is that “each student will exit high school prepared for college and careers in a global society.” From my perspective, the significant resources that you have at your disposal would be better spent trying to support that goal for students across the state of Kansas, rather than trying to tear it down.

        • Dave Trabert says:

          David – happy to have a public discussion of the facts of school funding with you anytime. It would be fun.

          By the way, we do reference the Kansas Department of Education and the Bureau of Labor Statistics in our debunking of the CBPP report.

  3. Ken Snyder says:

    Being a _former_ USD500 employee (albeit never allowed to be “full time” — only when needed) I can now see both sides of the issue.

    True, spending is probably well below what it should be. HOWEVER, when I hear talk about how a school that has been doing without a stadium of their own (for over 30 years) suddenly needs a brand new facility I think what needs to happen is an overhaul of how districts spend money. New building to alleviate overcrowded or inadequate buildings? Good use of funds. Renovate a football field with artificial turf, then see it sit empty while natural-grass fields get used to the point that they’re mud holes? Failure.

    How funds are allotted between actual educational needs (teaching staff salaries, classroom equipment, etc.) and what can only be called luxuries that do nothing to educate students (like stadiums, that are more for the NFL farm-team system — also known as college football) is something that needs looking at just as much as how much funding the state is providing.

    • Cindy Lane says:

      You are certainly correct, the needs are great. We have replaced 13 schools in the last 7 years. Each of these facilities were obsolete or had significant maintenance and repair challenges. Even so, there is so much more that needs to be done.

      The stadium may look like a luxury. In reality, we are meeting standards in the industry which help prevent concussions and injuries to our athletes. The fields we are replacing allow for multiple purposes, such as football, soccer, track, and are in high demand by all of our schools and the community.

      We see these decisions as long term investments. The stadiums serve the entire community. Upkeep and general maintenance will save money over the long run. Most importantly, we are providing our students with safe, quality facilities to learn, grow, and develop.

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