Candidates on the issues: School efficiency

We’re continuing with the candidates’ answers to the questionnaire we developed with input from readers earlier this month. Tomorrow we’ll publish our final set of questionnaire responses.

Today’s topic: the governor’s task force on school efficiency:

Governor Sam Brownback in September appointed a 10-person task force to search for ways to “make public schools more financially efficient.” Shawnee Mission received a 100 percent efficiency rating from Standard & Poor’s in a study commissioned during Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’s tenure. Do you think Kansas public schools are run inefficiently? If so, where is money being wasted?

Senate District 7:

Kay Wolf (R):

Are Kansas public schools run inefficiently? Simply put, I am not qualified to answer for other districts. Factually, I can answer this question only with regard to the Shawnee Mission school district. The Shawnee Mission School District operates extremely efficiently, not inefficiently.
The facts are:
(1) Since 2009, the district has reduced the general operating budget by $25.5 million due to state funding reductions.
(2) Since 2009 there are 399 fewer staff members in the district are serving approximately the same number of students.
(3)The district has closed six schools since 2007, with an annual operational savings of approximately $3.5 million.
(4)More than 65.8% of operational expenditures go into SMSD classroom instruction as opposed to the reported 46% state spending on K-12 statewide.
(5) The ratio of building administrators to students is 429:1 (27,870 students).
(6) ACT/SAT scores surpass state and national averages.
(7) SM high schools have been recognized among the best high schools by Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report and the Washington Post.
(8) More than $50 million in scholarship offers in 2012 were received by SM students in 2012
(9) We have an excellent school board which works for the betterment of our system and encourages input from patrons.
The SMSD is continually looking for ways to improve student performance while streamlining the process. I believe it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible to maintain our standard of performance if there are additional funding cuts. We must continue to fight for more funding. It is vital for the excellence in public education that we have come to know and expect.

Kyle Russell (D):

As a parent of two (soon to be three) children in the Shawnee Mission School District, I have not experienced our schools being run inefficiently. Since 2008 we have seen increased class sizes, increased fees, and school closings in Northeast Johnson County. Now, our classrooms are not being cleaned on a daily basis, and the district is not purchasing new library materials. We are way past the point of cutting out inefficiencies; we are now cutting items that directly affect the quality of our children’s education and jeopardize their health and safety. These cuts are unacceptable.

On a statewide basis, I do not know whether schools are being run inefficiently. However, it is not the Legislature’s or the Governor’s job to run local school districts’ operations. Under the Kansas Constitution, it is local school boards, not the state, that are tasked with “maintaining, developing and operating” the public schools. It is the Legislature’s and Governor’s job to provide suitable funding for education statewide – a job at which they are currently failing. It appears to me that the Efficiency Task Force may be a smoke screen intended to deflect attention from the Legislature’s and the Governor’s unwillingness to fund the schools.

As your state senator I will make it my top priority to focus attention on the effects of the recent school funding cuts, and to eventually get the funding fully restored. I promise to be a strong advocate for public education funding at the state and local levels, and to leave it to local school boards to run their districts efficiently. If these priorities are your priorities, then I would appreciate your vote on November 6th or before.

House District 19:

Zach Luea (D):

No. “Financially efficient” is a politically charged phrase and generally means cutting jobs. According to an October 8th , 2012 KC Star article by Dawn Bormann, the task force has discussed consolidation of districts and staff sharing programs. It is my belief that these actions, if implemented, will result in fewer quality teachers, larger class sizes and closed schools throughout Johnson County.

I also believe that Gov. Brownback’s panel will submit a finding that schools are operating inefficiently and funds should be reduced. The study will provide Gov. Brownback political cover to further reduce school funding by blaming the school districts for poor management.

Stephanie Clayton (R):

I think that the Shawnee Mission School District achieves excellence in spite of the obstacles we face. We have cut and cut, and managed to stay above water, but any more cuts and the children will suffer. One would argue that one cut that was made- the cut to custodial staff so that classrooms are only cleaned once every three days- is already putting our children at a health risk. PTA parents in my district are happy to donate cleaning supplies, and to assist the schools in any way that they can, and that is a great thing- but any more cuts, and we will see a fall from the excellence that the district currently achieves. I am pleased to see that the KASB and other education organizations are looking at ways to find efficiencies statewide.

House District 21:

Barbara Bollier (R):

I have not made myself familiar with all school districts in Kansas and how efficiently they are run. I believe in local control: elected local school boards that are close to the people and understand the needs and nuances of each district. I am proud of the district that I represent (Shawnee Mission) and its 100 percent efficiency rating from Standard and Poor. We have outstanding members of our school board who run a tight ship and should be commended. I would not support state control over local control of our schools.

Amy Bell (D):

  Any large institution is going to have its fair share of inefficiencies, but the task force that Governor Brownback assembled does not seem qualified to spot the few minor infractions that might exist. If he was serious about finding ways to cut education costs the task force would need to have, not only educators, but custodians, cafeteria workers and bus drivers, the people who actually know the ins and outs of the work that needs to be done. Instead he is looking for major cuts to make to a school system that desperately needs its funding restored. We need to focus on our children and not this destructive agenda

House District 25:

Melissa Rooker (R):

As a whole, I believe that Kansas K-12 public schools are relatively efficient, and I am extremely proud of our Shawnee Mission School District for the efforts taken to direct funding to our classrooms. Our district has had to make tough choices that are not always popular or easy in order to reduce their operating expenses in a manner that minimizes impact on student achievement. There is always room to find innovative methods to better use available resources, share information, and identify opportunities for local districts to cooperate to find efficiencies, but I do not believe we are going to find enough “inefficiency” across the state that we will solve the looming crisis created by the new tax plan. The governor believes that growth spurred by this new tax plan will compensate for the loss of revenue, yet we have no Plan B in place to deal with the reality of failing to meet those built-in assumptions. I would propose using the Shawnee Mission School District as a model of efficiency, rather than wasting taxpayer dollars on yet another study.

Megan England (D):

There is no doubt that the Shawnee Mission School District is run efficiently. Standard and Poor’s has already rated it 100 in this category, but the governor still thinks it’s a good idea to spend taxpayer dollars rating it again. Even more alarming, the Governor saw fit to appoint no teachers or administrators to his School Efficiency Task Force. It seems a lot like hiring ten surgeons to review your tax returns. Frankly, nothing the governor has done on this issue inspires a lot of confidence in his decision-making skills. For the past two years, public schools and educators have endured a lot of bullying and finger-pointing from Governor Brownback and the republican dominated legislature. Our wonderful teachers and administrators should be actively engaged in the process of improving our schools, not shut out and subsequently blamed for policies they had no hand in creating.

Tomorrow, the candidates will weigh in on our final topic: the local option budget.

Shawnee Mission Superintendent Gene Johnson recently said he felt the coming legislative session might offer the best chance to allow local districts to gain more control in how much money they can raise for schools. Do you think the “local option budget” portion of the school-funding formula should be changed? How much should local districts be able to raise?