At the end of the 2018 legislative session, it seemed as if the Supreme Court had decided the “adequacy” question of school finance. They asked that the legislature consider adding a cost of living increase for a five year period. Governor Colyer declared that he would sign such a bill. With that in place, it looked as if the state government was poised to end the Gannon v. Kansas lawsuit, maybe even as soon as the legislature convened in 2019. However, that has not happened. The legislature is currently in “turn-around” time. That is, the House bills will be sent to the Senate, and vice-versa. Senate leadership has signaled that it is ready to address the school finance issue.
Knowing that we would have some type of school finance bill this session, I decided to poll the superintendents in the 18 Unified School Districts in Senate District 33. The legislature allocated more funds for the 2018-19 school year, offered matching grants available for schools needing help with security infrastructure, and KSDE developed an accreditation incentive program. How was the new money spent? Are we headed in the right direction? The results of that survey follow.
The accreditation incentive guidelines are space-themed: Mercury, Gemini I, and Gemini II designations for schools. A school does not have to “launch” one of these programs to be accredited, it is an optional “step-up” program. I was curious to see if any of ours had pursued this. All school systems, both public and private, must meet certain guidelines to become officially accredited.
Thirteen of the 18 school districts in District 33 responded to my survey. It is a good cross section of the district, both in size and geographic location. All of the schools in District 33 are rural, except for Great Bend, which is the only “micropolitan” city in the district. USDs responding were: Dighton, Ellinwood, Ft. Larned, Great Bend, Hoisington, Kiowa County, Ness City, Otis-Bison, Pratt, Scott City, Skyline, St. John-Hudson, and Stafford.
Do you or any of your board members favor a constitutional amendment to the constitution relative to school adequacy?
Superintendents were a unanimous “no” on changing the constitution and most felt their board members were also opposed. A few had not discussed it with their board and another had two members in favor and one undecided.
All of you received extra funding this school year. Can you list what programs, personnel raises, or other ways these funds were dispersed?
Raises: 11 districts gave teacher raises, 7 gave classified employee raises, 1 gave a supplemental salary increase
Positions added across responding districts:
Four Certified Nurse Assistants
Social worker and counseling or mental health professionals
One math and one English teacher to reduce class size.
Professional Development resources were improved at 5 schools.
Programs: partial funding for an FFA program, health insurance premiums offset, Parents-As-Teachers was instituted
Building maintenance and replacement of older vehicles
Used money to match a large grant obtained to provide interventions for students at risk of dropping out.
Used to backfill financial losses due to declining enrollment and assessed valuation.
Recruitment and Retention of staff are increasingly challenging. Have you implemented incentives to address this challenge?
Additional college hours
Achieving ESL endorsement
Earn Transition to Teaching degree
Overall, districts considered raises as an incentive.
One district is researching non-compensatory benefits, such as housing and day care as an attempt to increase discretionary income without necessarily increasing taxable income.
One district expressed hope that support from Topeka in the form of adequate funding and a positive attitude will, over time, help the image of education in Kansas, thus improving recruitment and retention of certified teachers.
What particular strategy do you use to discover what graduates are doing two years after graduation? Can you monitor if the post secondary plan created in high school aligns with the actual activity?
Six schools use the National Clearinghouse for this data.
Four schools use post-secondary surveys, presumably self-created.
All schools mentioned counselors and administrators keep informed due to the small size of the community.
Do you feel your district/school teachers are adequately trained in Kansas Education Systems Accreditation (KESA)?
Two districts did not believe their district is adequately trained.
Others thought so, but most responses spoke to the process of the accreditation as a journey.
Is your district/school a Mercury, Gemini I, or Gemini II school?
Two districts are Gemini I schools
One district is Gemini II.
Many other districts considered working toward the designation, but decided to focuse on the accreditation process, rather than re-design.
Did your enrollment increase or decrease for the 2018 – 19 school year. By how much? (up or down).
5 Districts: Up 5 to 47 students
5 Districts: Down 4 to 30 students
3 Districts: Holding steady
All of the schools in Kansas Senate District 33 are classified as Rural (except for Great Bend). Please list what you see as the 5 most challenging issues for rural schools.
Recruitment and Retention of quality staff.
Attracting stable business to support a healthy middle class lifestyle
Affordable and adequate housing.
Non-school opportunities for youth.
Community….quality of life issues and lack of broad base of support for small districts.
Increase of students living in poverty.
Increase in numbers of students needing emotional/mental health help.
The loss of bond state aid and the cap on bond financing.
Support staff increasingly hard to fill: Custodians, Aides, Bus Drivers, etc.
Transportation challenges for large geographical areas.
Overall population loss (in districts where that was indicated).
Lack of ability to provide real-world experiences that help with career education.
Potential de-valuation of land due to the decline in agriculture and oil, leading to less tax revenue for schools.
It is difficult to implement increasing requirements from KSDE and the legislature with so few staff.
Did your district apply for the safety grant from KSDE? If yes, how did you spend this money?
Five districts applied and received this grant. This was used to supplement costs for cameras, locks on classroom doors, and access control. One answer was “Yes, received $5,856.00. This money went to help pay for our SafeDefend system and new classroom doors. The total cost of these items was around $80,000.00.
I’m so grateful to the districts that provided input and I recognize the limited time each of you have, so please know you aren’t ignored if you were unable to respond!
It is an honor and privilege to serve you in Topeka.
At your service,
Sen. Mary Jo Taylor
Serving West Central Kansas
Sen. Mary Jo Taylor serves West Central Kansas including Barton, Edwards, Kiowa, Lane, Ness, Pawnee, Pratt, Rush, Scott, Stafford. and parts of Hodgeman and Rice Counties.