Wednesday, November 19, 2014

This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.

I will venture a guess that every school district in Kansas has bought a vehicle in the past few years. Most likely you have purchased a suburban-type vehicle for transporting students. If your community has a car dealership, you were forced to make a choice: buy the vehicle off the state bid list, buy the vehicle from your local dealer, or buy your vehicle from a neighboring community dealer. <

The state bid list is easy, and usually cheapest. The state has done all of the work, so you don’t even have to go through the formal bid process. Just order the vehicle you want, write the check, and they deliver the car. Oh, and then wait for the call…

Dealer: Mr/s Board Member? Yes, this is John from John’s New Suburban and Expedition Dealership calling. I noticed the board purchased a new vehicle from the state bid list. I don’t understand why I wasn’t allowed to bid on that. Sure, I know I probably can’t beat the bid, but I can come close enough to meet the bid exception rule.

You: I understand John, but we are trying to be as efficient as possible. We buy two vehicles a year and save $1500. We can put that extra money right into the classroom.

Dealer: Saving money is important and I want my tax dollars spent as efficiently as possible. Please keep in mind though that I employ 25 people, and all of their kids attend our local schools. My own kids attend the high school and I serve on the high school site council. My wife and I both donated money to the Vote Yes campaign to build the new elementary school last year. Every year we donate a vehicle to the high school good student raffle. My employees get time off to volunteer in their kid’s schools, and when you don’t patronize local businesses you make it hard for me to do all of these things.

You: Gosh John, you have really given me some things to think about. Thanks for the call.

Not every district has a car dealership, but nearly all districts have local vendors who sell insurance, gasoline, food, mowers, or provide printing, architectural, audit, tutoring, mechanic, HVAC, or legal services. They all have similar stories.

I am reminded of the famous “If by whiskey” speech made by Mississippi legislator Noah “Soggy” Sweat on the subject of legalizing alcohol in his state. (It’s true and worth the read if you haven’t seen it- Google it.)

“My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. If when you say whiskey you mean the devil's brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason… certainly I am against it.

But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips… then certainly I am for it.

This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.”

So my friends, if when you talk about school district efficiency, you mean state intervention, more rules and regulations about what, when, and where boards can spend money and more infringements by the legislature on local control; if you are advocating standard schedules and calendars that have no concern for local needs or mores; if you mean regional and state purchasing that further hacks out the heart of local community businesses, that takes food from the mouths of my neighbors, then I am against it.

But if by efficiency you mean lower costs so more money can be spent on student instruction, sharing resources and collaborating with our neighbors, working together to maximize purchasing power; if you advocate better services by working together; if you create structures and systems that improve education for all children, then by all means I am in favor.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Lessons from the Election

Alliance for Freedom Gubernatorial Mailer
About three weeks before the election I started collecting, as opposed to tossing, campaign postcards that were mailed to my house.  After the election, I looked back through them, curious about the message that moved voters. As I reviewed the literature, one thing leaped off the pages: EDUCATION! The candidates clearly believed that the key to winning state-level elections was to convince people that they love Kansas schools and educators more than their opponent.

My collection consists of 16 mailers. Over the three weeks before the election, every single mailer was about education. 100%! There was nothing about any other issue.I am surprised that it didn’t occur to me before. (I might have been distracted by the national race flyer with the flowers sprouting out of the shotgun. That thing still intrigues me for some reason.) I wonder if others had the same experience as me, or if the campaign targeting has become so sophisticated that they were able to pinpoint that education (and flower-sprouting shotguns) is the most important issue at my house?

Let’s assume that the campaigners aren’t quite that good yet, and that education really was the key issue in this election. What messages did the winning candidate want voters to hear? (I only included the winning gubernatorial candidate's messages because he obviously did a better job of understanding and communicating the key points.) The following is a list of headlines or highlighted quotes from the mailers in my collection (The categories are mine.):

Quality Schools
*Kansas schools are fifth best in the country
*Support the Governor’s budget that helped make Kansas schools the fifth best in America.
*(Kansas) rated best based on criteria such as student-teacher ratios, test scores, and school safety.
*Quality schools create opportunities for Kansas students.

Adequate Resources
*Increased overall state school funding
*Education is a top priority with the (Kansas) budget
*…an increase of $270 million (in school funding) since 2011
*School funding has increased every year during Governor Brownback’s administration
*$129 million more for schools and education
*State school funding has increased every year--- nearly $400 million more than 2010.
*Invest in our students
*School funding bill a huge win…
Alliance for Freedom Gubernatorial Mailers
*$5.9 Billion K-12 Funding

Quality Staff
*More teachers better pay
*280 additional special education teachers
*600+ new teachers statewide
*676 more educators in Kansas
*First permanent teacher raises in 5 years
*Teacher salaries up 2.3%

Quality Programs
*236 percent increase in technical education enrollment
*Increased literacy funding by $20.8 million

Local Governance
*Increased local control
*Local parents, teachers, and educators know what is best for our children---they should be making decisions about out kids futures.

The lesson from the election is clear:
  1.     Kansas has great schools.
  2.     Great schools require increasing financial resources
  3.     Great schools require more and better-paid teachers.
  4.     Local control is important to quality governance.

Kansas board members will debate and vote on KASB Legislative Positions for the 2015 Legislative Session in the following categories at our at the Dec. 7 Delegate Assembly:

  1. RAISE STANDARDS FOR SUCCESS. Continue to improve educational outcomes by raising standards for students, educators, schools and districts.
  2. FINANCE FOR SUCCESS. Provide constitutionally suitable funding for continuing educational improvement in all districts.
  3. LOCAL LEADERSHIP FOR SUCCESS. Strengthen responsiveness to parents and community needs under locally elected boards and school leadership.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Thank a Veteran today!

Over the weekend, my son and I went to see "Fury." The movie is about a World War II tank crew and how they adapt to the horrors of war.  Emporians who see the movie and had the privilege of knowing retired Army Sgt Ken Bradstreet will no doubt have a similar reaction to mine - picturing a man you knew and respected in that horrible situation.

For those of you who didn't know Sgt. Bradstreet, he was the leader of a tank crew during the same time period depicted in the movie.  I got to know Ken because the year before I became superintendent in Emporia, the district decided not to give students the day off on Veterans Day. This was a decision that did not sit well with this retired veteran and he was quite capable of expressing his displeasure.

Over the years, Ken and I got to be friends, and he shared his experiences: the anger of getting a refurbished tank in which the blood from the past crew had been painted over sloppily; the repulsive stench associated with rolling into the Dacha Death Camp; the choke chain dog collars used to restrain concentration camp prisoners; and worst of all, the loss of friends. Ken was always willing to share his experiences with students in Lyon County although it was obviously difficult for him. He knew that it helped kids connect the abstract idea of service with the real life horror of war.

Emporia High School's History Department did an exceptional job of working with Ken Bradstreet to teach students respect for service. Even after Ken's death, my youngest son was encouraged to reach out to a veteran as part of learning history. He interviewed my wife's grandfather, who served in the Pacific Theater. His experiences were equally emotional and horrible. Man's inhumanity to man is more than a literary concept when seen through the eyes of our veterans.

It is so important that our schools continue to help all students understand the sacrifice, courage and commitment of those who serve our country. Without that knowledge, our kids will grow up understanding neither the horror of armed conflict or the need for investing in a lifetime of support for these men and women.