Friday, May 29, 2015

1 Kings 3:16-28

They argued back and forth in front of Solomon, 23 until finally he said, “Both of you say this live baby is yours. 24 Someone bring me a sword.”

A sword was brought, and Solomon ordered, 25 “Cut the baby in half! That way each of you can have part of him.” 26 “Please don’t kill my son,” the baby’s mother screamed. “Your Majesty, I love him very much, but give him to her. Just don’t kill him.”

The other woman shouted, “Go ahead and cut him in half. Then neither of us will have the baby.”

27 Solomon said, “Don’t kill the baby.” Then he pointed to the first woman, “She is his real mother. Give the baby to her.”

28 Everyone in Israel was amazed when they heard how Solomon had made his decision. They realized that God had given him wisdom to judge fairly.


Fast forward to Fall of 2014, locked in a heated race for governor, both sides argued vehemently how much they loved education. Both sides claimed credit for providing more funds to education and protecting education from cuts.

And now here we are at the crossroads...

If revenue is not raised, King Solomon's sword will drop on education. Some argue that we should just make more cuts, some argue the only responsible solution is to raise taxes, and still others argue that it's not their mess to fix. I understand all of these arguments and their strategic implications. I also know that if we do not act with the wisdom of Solomon, children will suffer.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Once upon a time. . .

With our oldest daughter, the nickname “Princess” is more than a moniker, it’s a way of life. Life with her is a constant reminder of the story of the Princess and the Pea, as small issues can quickly become big ones. She is beautiful, bright, graceful, and majestic, but has a flair for the dramatic.

So when she started texting from Manhattan last week about water up to her waist and cars floating down the street, her mom and I chuckled and went to sleep. Manhattanites know the rest of this story: weather reports about 5 inches of rain in an hour, newspaper pictures of students kayaking to class, and hilarious tweets from KSU President Kirk Schulz confirmed our Princess’ story.

The story ends there, because most people would not draw the conclusion from this story that all of Kansas was underwater because one community was hit with heavy rain. One would only have to look out their door or window to confirm or deny that all of Kansas was flooded.

If only it were that easy with education data. One hears a story about a Kansas district in which half of the employees are administrators, or that one midsize district increased its administrative expenses by $60,000, and suddenly all Kansas schools are administratively top-heavy. To aid in this misleading narrative, a report from the Friedman Foundation shows that Kansas expenses for “Administrative and Other Non-teaching” personnel have increased 43 percent over the past 20 years. That report quickly became the go-to quote for folks who often didn't remember the “Other Non-teaching” part or know that paraprofessionals and aides were included in “Administrative and Non-teaching.”

So what has really happened in Kansas? It’s a question KASB’s Ted Carter went to work on, and his answer is illuminating.

Comparable staffing and student enrollment data goes back to 1998. Ted started in 1998, and to control for enrollment growth used a ratio of students to staff by category over that 17-year time period in Kansas. The graph shows a summary of the data (details are available at kasb.org/data).

During that time period, there was indeed an increase in total staff. Instructional support staff increased, as did student support, transportation and instruction. Boards of education added staff exactly where it was needed-closest to the student. During that same time period, special education inclusion increased demands for additional staff in the classroom, as did increasing populations of non-English speakers and at-risk students.

At the same time, there was a significant decrease in “General Administration” personnel and a small increase in building administration. Dollars were spent closest to the students, and cut were made farthest from the student.

This doesn’t tell a dramatic story. By the “man bites dog” criterion, it isn’t newsworthy that Kansas districts added staff to serve students who needed the most assistance. So instead we hear anecdotes and let them be the story. It is time for board members to tell your stories. We have cut administrative and added instructional staff and been good stewards of taxpayer dollars.

Don’t take a flood in Manhattan to be a cause for building an Ark in your backyard. Don’t believe an anecdote without confirming it, and don’t generalize it to every school in Kansas. Look outside to see what is happening in your local district.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The devil takes a hand in what is done in haste.- Turkish Proverb

Once again it is May, and our elected officials are struggling to get their work completed at the last minute.  For observers and representatives alike, it is similar to how my brother used to describe his police career: long periods of boredom interspersed with brief moments of excitement.
We were in a great hurry to get block grants passed so we would have a school finance plan. Now we have a budget hole to fill that gets bigger every day and only two more weeks to finish the task on time. Throw in changes to KPERS and a host of smaller issues and it looks like we are on the verge of more all-nighters at the last hour.  My daughter just left my office talking about pulling all-nighters for two finals.  I imagine she will be as receptive to my advice on the efficacy of this strategy as the legislature.
My parents and I had dinner in Hays last week and we were discussing the phenomenon of waiting to the last minute to get your work done.  I recalled the summer before my first teaching job, when my brother and I hired on to build fence.  
My dad was truly a gentleman farmer at that time, holding a second job as superintendent at Junction City to support his raging farm jones.  He would give assignments on the weekends and my brother and I would do the work.  The day before I was to leave for my teaching job, he called with a problem.  He needed one last quarter mile section of fence done before we quit for the summer.  If we could do it in one day, we would both get crisp $100 bills.  My dad had/has an affinity for getting “one more thing” done, as anyone who has ever worked for him can attest.  We were not surprised; the pay was good and we were young, strong, focused and dumb.
We started at the break of dawn and worked until the sun went down.  This is stone post country folks, the posts that can withstand the charge of a 2000-pound bull, but will break if hit just right with a hammer.  At the end of the day, we had broken a few posts, strung a lot of wire, built a tear-away over a draw and collected our $100 bills.  It was a great sense of accomplishment.
Until Christmas, when we came home and asked, “Where’s dad?” My mom had the look that we knew ever so well, the look that said, “Lay low boys, until the heat is off.”
There is art and science to stringing wire.  The art is knowing how to get it just tight enough in the summer so when the cold weather comes and the steel contracts it doesn’t pop like a violin string at an elementary orchestra concert.  In our haste, we pulled just a little too hard.  George knows about shrinkage, and so did we when Max came home cussing about the shoddy job that had been done that summer.  I’m surprised he didn’t ask for his $100 back, but it was Christmas.
My concern about hastily constructed block grant bills and budget plans is that when Christmas comes around, the wires will pop, the cows will get out, and we will have already spent those crisp hundred dollar bills.  Just as was the case 35 years ago, some emergencies can’t be foreseen.  I sure hope the result isn’t the same.

Epilogue: Although his memory is still sharp, my dad has little memory of this incident.  He did recall that he had bought some cheap barbed wire that summer and maybe that was the problem.  Hmmm, there was no mention of poor materials 35 years ago, just poor workmanship!