Tag Archives: Connie Dietz

Citizens generally misinformed on Kansas school spending

When asked about the level of spending on public schools in Kansas, citizens are generally uninformed or misinformed. They also incorrectly thought that spending has declined in recent years.

These are some of the findings of a survey commissioned by Kansas Policy Institute and conducted by SurveyUSA, a national opinion research firm.

In a press release, KPI president Dave Trabert said “As Kansans consider how to deal with the potential fallout from another school lawsuit, pressure to expand Medicaid, ballooning pension deficits and concerns about rising property taxes, we wanted to check again to see how perceptions of the facts influences opinions. Good information is essential to informed opinions and it is clear that when given the facts, Kansans offer much different responses than what is typically reported from overly-simplistic public surveys.”

Here’s the first question of the survey, asking about Kansas state spending on schools: “How much state funding do you think Kansas school districts currently receive per pupil each year from JUST the state of Kansas? Less than $4,000 per pupil? Between $4,000 and $5,000? Between $5,000 and $6,000? Or more than $6,000 per pupil?”

The correct answer is the last category, according to Kansas State Department of Education. State spending on Kansas schools, on a per-pupil basis, is $6,984 for the most recent school year. That’s total state-funded spending of $3,184,163,559 divided by 456,000.50 full time equivalent students. 13 percent of survey respondents chose the correct category. 44 percent thought the correct answer was less than $4,000.

To get a reading about respondents’ level of knowledge regarding total school spending, the survey asked “How much funding per pupil do you think Kansas school districts currently receive from ALL taxpayer sources per year, including State, Federal and Local taxpayers? Less than $6,000 per pupil? Between $6,000 and $9,000? Between $9,000 and $12,000? Or more than $12,000 per pupil?”

According to KSDE, the spending per pupil from all sources of funding is $12,656. On the survey, seven percent chose the correct category. 39 percent thought the answer was less than $6,000, which is less than half the actual spending.

What the trend in school spending? The survey asked: “Over the last 5 years, do you think per-pupil school district funding from the State, Federal Government and local property taxes has gone down by more than 10%? Has remained about the same? Has gone up by less than 5%? Or has gone up by about 10%?”

Here are the figures: For 2011-2012, spending per pupil was $12,656. Five years ago, the 2006-2007 school year, spending was $11,558. That’s 9.5 percent. Only 15 percent chose the correct answer, “up by about 10%.” Fully 61 percent thought spending had declined.

The level of knowledge revealed in this survey is not a surprise. In 2010 KPI commissioned a survey that asked similar questions, with similar results.

A national survey, Is the Price Right? Probing American’s knowledge of school spending, a 2007 project produced by EducationNext, a project of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, produced similar results:

How well informed is the public about these financial commitments? Not very. Among those asked without the prompt listing possible expenses, the median response was $2,000, or less than 20 percent of the true amount being spent in their districts. Over 90 percent of the public offered an amount less than the amount actually spent in their district, and more than 40 percent of the sample claimed that annual spending was $1,000 per pupil or less. The average estimate of $4,231 reflects the influence of a small percentage of individuals who offered extremely high figures. Even so, the average respondent’s estimate was just 42 percent of actual spending levels in their district.

Why the low level of correct information?

Given that citizens have a consistent record of underestimating the amount spend on schools, we might ask why. There are several answers.

First, school officials lie to the public. That’s unfortunate, but there’s no other way to characterize comparisons between their statements and the facts.

In July, a Wichita Eagle news story quoted John Allison, superintendent of USD 259, the Wichita public school district thusly: “We’re still at 2001 funding levels. If only our costs were at 2001.”

In March, Wichita school board member Connie Dietz wrote in an Eagle op-ed: “But what neither I nor any of my fellow board members planned on was building a fiscal year 2012 budget based on 1999 funding levels.”

Looking at the facts, these claims are demonstrably false. Considering Allison’s claim specifically: From the 2001-2002 school year to the 2011-2012 year, spending per pupil from state sources increased from $4,812 to $7,501, an increase of 55.8 percent. Spending per pupil from all sources grew from $8,393 to $12,734, an increase of 51.7 percent.

During the same time, the Consumer Price Index, the primary measure of inflation, rose about 27 percent, about half the rate that Wichita school spending increased.

I don’t know why these school leaders makes these claims that are so divergent from the facts. I do know, however, that our opinion leaders aren’t doing any better. A Lawrence Journal-World editorial that was repeated in the Wichita Eagle made several claims about Kansas schools that don’t hold up under scrutiny. The editorial made this claim: “In the last four years, per-pupil state funding for public schools has declined by about 14 percent, from $4,400 per student to $3,780. Districts have cut the fat in their budgets and then some. It’s time to correct this dangerous trend.”

This statement about “base state aid per pupil” is true. But using only that figure to describe spending on schools in Kansas is disingenuous. It hides facts that are contrary.

School spending advocates present base state aid per pupil as the primary benchmark or indicator of school spending, despite the fact that it is only part of the Kansas school spending formula and disguises the overall level of spending.

Specifically, base state aid per pupil for the last school year was $3,780. But the state spent an average of $6,983 per pupil that year, which is an additional $3,203 or 84.7 percent more than base state aid. Overall spending from all sources was $12,656 per pupil. Both of the latter numbers are higher than the previous year.

As can be seen in the chart, base state aid has declined, but total state spending has increased.

Why do school spending supporters focus only on base state aid? Its decline provides the grain of truth for their larger and false argument about school spending. As explained in Kansas school spending: the deception this grain of truth enables school spending advocates like Mark Desetti (Director of Legislative and Political Advocacy at Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), our state’s teachers union) to be accurate and deceptive, all at the same time.

Finally, people want schools and students to succeed. Our future depends on it. A good education is a valuable investment. So there’s a built-in bias in favor of schools, and school spending advocates use this to their advantage. Anyone who simply brings attention to the facts — not to mention criticism — is blasted as “anti-education” or “anti-child.”

People are shocked when they learn the level of spending by schools. When they — either through their own observations or measures of student achievement — compare that spending to the product produced by public schools, citizens become truly alarmed — and they should be.

Base state aid compared to Kansas state spending and total spending. State and total spending has risen even though base state aid is mostly flat.

Wichita school district discusses unspent fund balances

Last week the board of USD 259, the Wichita public school district provided another example of the attitude of the board towards those who have opinions that are not aligned with the policies of the district and public school spending advocates.

In this example it was Dave Trabert who appeared to speak to the board. Trabert is president of Kansas Policy Institute. His purpose was to present to the board some options the district has, based on a new state law, for managing its finances so that it could proceed without laying off teachers or eliminating programs.

Board president Connie Dietz made sure the speakers were aware there is a three minute time limit — now there is a timer on the display screens — and that the speakers would be excused after that time.

Trabert told the board that based on new state law, the Wichita school district has $16.4 million available for it to use without restriction. These are funds that the district has in accounts, but did not spend in previous years. “The district can, if it chooses, use this option to avoid teacher layoffs and other program cuts,” Trabert said.

Trabert recognized that the district needs some balances to help manage cash flow. He also mentioned the fact that school districts and school spending supporters don’t address: “The fact that these balances have increased significantly over the years, as some revenues were not spent, shows that the district has the ability to use this option if it chooses, and still have a lot of cash left over.”

He also told the board that many school districts in Kansas are able to operate with lower ratios of cash balances, relative to their operating expenses, than the Wichita district does.

Board member Lynn Rogers questioned Trabert, asking him how he felt about the federal government spending Social Security trust funds on things other than Social Security benefits. Trabert asked how that applied to the issue at hand.

Rogers said the district’s fund balances are a similar concept, and that if the district spends fund balances on something other than originally intended, it’s like the government misapplying Social Security trust funds. But the two concepts are distinguishable.

The idea behind the Social Security Trust Fund is that payroll taxes are collected from workers, and are then invested to earn interest over a long period of time in order to pay future benefits to retirees.

The district’s funds, with the possible exception of a fund like capital improvement or textbooks, are not intended as long-term investment vehicles. Rather, they are designed to meet short-term needs and to manage cash flow.

Despite the huge difference in the nature of the school funds and the Social Security Trust Fund, Rogers pressed Trabert to answer his question, trying to draw a comparison between the district’s health care fund and Social Security. But again, the comparison is not valid. The district’s self-insurance health care fund is for the anticipated costs of health care for the current year. It is not a long-term savings plan, as Social Security is intended to be.

We saw recently how the Wichita school district treated someone who made a proposal that lied outside the school spending orthodoxy. Here again we see similar treatment: First, the speaker is sternly reminded of the short time limit. This is, remember, at school board meetings where vast expanses of time are wasted on “feel-good” measures that do nothing to advance public policy, or education, for that matter.

After the speaker finishes, board members may then lecture the speaker, often in an attempt to divert attention away from the issues the speaker raised. At least in this meeting the board member gave the speaker a chance to respond. That may not happen again, as Rogers made nonsensical arguments in his attempt to back the speaker into a corner and avoid addressing the substance of the issue at hand.

The issue of the fund balances, while important, is not the most serious issue facing Wichita and Kansas schools. Most people would be surprised — and shocked — to learn that only 26 percent of Kansas students that take the ACT test are ready for college-level coursework in all four areas that ACT considers. (See Most Kansas students not ready for college.) While this result was slightly better than the national average, it means that three-fourths of Kansas high school graduates need to take one or more remedial college courses.

It is important that citizens understand the issue of the unspent fund balances. It’s also important that they are aware of the refusal of school districts and school spending advocates to deal forthrightly with the public on this issue. It provides insight into the nature of our public schools, and why reform is so difficult.

The written material that Trabert presented to the board may be found at Unencumbered Carryover Cash Balance Facts (According to the Kansas Dept. of Education, school district budget documents, Kansas Legislative Research Department and basic accounting principles). For more articles on the fund balances, click on Kansas school fund balances.

Wichita school board: critics not welcome

A recent meeting of the board of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, provided insight as to the insularity of the board members and district staff, and as to how little meaningful discussion or debate takes place at board meetings.

At the June 20th meeting, Dr. Walt Chappell, an elected member of the Kansas State Board of Education, used a slot on the public agenda to address the board about the upcoming budget. Chappell received a chilly reception — to say the least — from board president Connie Dietz. Chappell has been outspoken in his criticism of the way the state spends money on schools. Chappell knows, as do other critics of the Kansas school education bureaucracy, that if you’re not a team player, you’re going to suffer abuse from the education bureaucracy and its supporters.

Regardless of the validity of Chappell’s remarks to the board — more on that in another article — the attitude of Dietz is worse than simply being rude. It is shutting up your critics simply because you control the gavel. It is boorish and bullying behavior. It is contrary to good government.

The balance of power at meetings like these is all in favor of the board. Citizens, even elected officials like Chappell, may speak for a short period of time. Then board members may speak at length without fear of being held accountable for their remarks, because if the citizen were to speak even one word out of turn, the board would shut them up.

This is at a school district where much board meeting time is devoted to “feel good” measures such as the lengthy goodbye to departing board member Kevass Harding at the same meeting. That had nothing to do with public policy. It was constructive in no way except to board members, district staff, and Harding’s ego. By the way, he used the opportunity and time to announce his future political ambitions.

But when citizens and officials like Chappell speak — even though they may speak about important and weighty matters of policy — their time is strictly regulated. If they disagree with school district orthodoxy they may be scolded and lectured with no chance to defend themselves or rebut false statements and nonsensical arguments from board members or district staff. There is nothing resembling discussion or debate except among board members and district staff — all who drink from the same ideological fountain.

It’s not the first time this has happened to Chappell at the Wichita school board. Two years ago a similar incident took place. In my coverage, I wrote: “Certainly these three board members were dismissive of Chappell and his input. This is characteristic of this board and the entire district. They’re willing to accept citizen input when citizens agree with them. Otherwise, watch out.”

The district, however, believes there is debate. In a recent letter to the Wichita Eagle, board member Lynn Rogers claimed that budget decisions “are being debated heavily.”

The debate, however, is not inclusive or fruitful. Few citizens are even remotely aware of the level of school spending, whether spending is going up or down, and whether spending is related to student achievement. Last year the Kansas Policy Institute commissioned a public opinion survey that revealed just how uninformed and misinformed the citizens of Kansas are on school spending matters. National surveys have produced similar findings.

Instead, the debates about policies and budgets take place largely among those who benefit from school spending and increases. And, of course, in the one-sided lectures from the school board bench. Rogers called Chappell’s facts “misleading” despite the fact that the supporting documentation comes from the district itself and the state department of education.

This is not the first time that members like Rogers have revealed just how out of touch they are with the concerns of citizens and how misinformed they can be. For example, he told me during a meeting that responding to requests for information is a burden that prevents the district from educating kids.

In another instance, Rogers said “I know there are kids from many Catholic schools that have come to public schools when the Catholic schools have kicked them out.” It turns out that the Wichita Catholic schools expel very few students, less than five per year on average.

Diversity? It’s a sought-after goal of the district. In fact, the district has a committee with the title “Diversity, Equity and Accountability Committee.” But diversity in thought and opinion must not be part of what’s desired. The belligerent and disrespectful behavior of board members, particularly president Connie Dietz, is a deterrent to parents, teachers, students, and citizens who want to be involved and have their voices heard. That is, unless they agree with and praise the board and district.

Without the involvement of everyone, the board and district make decisions without all relevant facts and input, and often with incorrect information about many vitally important matters. That, I believe, is they way they like it.

Kansas ‘pigs at the trough’ award goes to …

Last week the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) made a presentation on Kansas school finance in Wichita. KASB is making similar presentations around the state. Mark Tallman, Assistant Executive Director/Advocacy for KASB, made the Wichita presentation.

At the end of the presentation, Wichita school board member Connie Dietz stepped forward and addressed Tallman. She asked Diane Gjerstad, the Wichita school district’s lobbyist to join them at the front.

Dietz said that earlier this year, an organization had labeled schools as “pigs at the trough.” Saying she is speaking for herself only and not on behalf of any organization, Dietz noted that “Mark is our lead lobbyist for K-12 education, and Diane represents Wichita Public Schools.” She presented both with a memento that had something to do with pigs and oinking.

While most in the audience were amused — it consisted mostly of school spending advocates — Dietz may want to remember that it was Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson who first used the word “pig.” It’s explained in my article Kansas Governor, Wichita Eagle: why ‘pigs’ at the trough? A short version of it appeared in the Wichita Eagle.

Schoolchildren, of course, aren’t pigs at the trough, no matter what the governor, the Wichita Eagle, and Connie Dietz say. For one, children don’t make the decision to attend public (government) schools, as their parents make that decision for them. It is the schools themselves, specifically school spending advocates in the form of Kansas National Education Association (KNEA, the teachers union), the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB), and school board members like Dietz that are feeding at the through.

Tallman, as Dietz noted, is the chief school spending advocate. (Let’s stop throwing insults like the governor did with the moniker “pig.”) It is his job to obtain as much money as possible for Kansas schools.

If we need any more evidence of the never-ending appetite of schools for money and what spending advocates like Tallman consider this mission, consider a story told by Kansas House Speaker Pro Tem Arlen Siegfreid (R-Olathe) of a conversation he had with Tallman: “During our discussion I asked Mr. Tallman if we (the State) had the ability to give the schools everything he asked for would he still ask for even more money for schools. His answer was, ‘Of course, that’s my job.'”

While presenting a humorous award made for a light ending to the meeting, the subject of public schools in Kansas is a serious matter. Tallman’s presentation — as does much of the school spending lobby — makes use of the rapidly rising scores on student achievement tests developed and administered by the State of Kansas. This allows him to present slides titled “Results of Increased Funding,” with one result being “Overall proficiency growth equaled or exceed the real increase in funding.” He cites a Kansas Legislative Post Audit study as authority.

The problem is that these Kansas state achievement tests, as is the case in many states, are almost certainly fraudulent. The rapid rise in scores is not duplicated on tests the state has no control over. Studies like the LPA study that use these misleading test scores are not reliable and should not be believed.

Looking at the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), we see a different story that’s in seeming conflict with Tallman’s assessment. On this test, which Kansas school officials can’t control, Kansas scores are largely flat. Sometimes they rise slowly and sometimes they fall.

The ACT college entrance exam provides another look at the performance of Kansas schools. A recent report shows that for the period 2005 to 2009, Kansas ACT scores are up a small amount. For the most recent years, scores are down very slightly. The Kansas scores are slightly higher than the scores for the entire nation, and have mirrored the national trend.

The most shocking part of the report, however, is how few Kansas students graduate from high school ready for college. While Kansas high school students perform slightly better than the nation, only 26 percent of Kansas students that take the ACT test are ready for college-level coursework in all four areas that ACT considers.

For school spending advocates like Tallman and Dietz — to the extent they care to read and believe these figures — this is evidence that schools need even more money. We ought to realize, however, that the system itself is broken. Reforms promoted over the generations by education bureaucrats have failed. We need to look to freedom, competition, entrepreneurship, and choice — rather than a government monopoly — to provide a suitable education for Kansas schoolchildren.

Kansas school spending lobby impossible to satisfy

A new report by the Kansas Policy Institute provides some insight into the voracious appetite of the Kansas school spending lobby for taxpayer dollars: There’s never enough.

In A Kansas Primer on Education Funding, Volume III: Analysis of K-12 Spending in Kansas this story is told:

So the rumors of school funding wars persist, with legislators and taxpayers asking “how much is enough?” and schools pressing for more money with no real end in sight. Speaker Pro Tem Arlen Siegfreid (R-Olathe) shared with me a conversation he had with Mark Tallman, Assistant Executive Director/Advocacy for the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB), which illuminates the dynamics at play:

Early last session Mark Tallman and I engaged in a conversation about the budget and school spending. During the conversation the difficulty of increasing school spending as ‘required’ by Montoy was juxtaposed against the need to cut school spending by the same percentage as other portions of the State budget. During our discussion I asked Mr. Tallman if we (the State) had the ability to give the schools everything he asked for would he still ask for even more money for schools. His answer was, “Of course, that’s my job.”

We’ve known for some time that the appetite for money by the school spending lobby can’t be satisfied. In 2007, when the Wichita school board voted to raise taxes I wrote this:

Lynn Rogers, then the USD 259 (the Wichita public school district) school board president, and Connie Dietz, then vice-president of the same body, attended. There had been a proposal to spend an additional $415 million over the next three years on schools. Asked if this would be enough to meet their needs, the Wichita school board members replied, “No.”

At least Rogers was not lying. Much more Kansas state spending than that was approved, and true to his word, the Wichita Board of Education still found it necessary this week to raise taxes so the public schools could have even more money.

Wichita school district turf vendor selection process unlawful, board members told

At last night’s meeting of the board of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, citizens learned that the process used to select the vendor for artificial athletic fields was flawed and violated Kansas law. The district will start over, almost from the beginning, and use a competitive bidding process to select the firm to install the fields at five high schools. The result is that the fields will not be available for the coming football season.

Interim Superintendent Martin Libhart announced that a hearing committee had been working all day, and that its recommendation was to reject and revoke the award of bid to Hellas Construction, and the the project should be put out for competitive bid.

During time for citizen comment, speakers mentioned that the board promised that the bond money would stay local and the hope that taxes would be spent wisely.

The president of Hellas Construction spoke and thought that the bid process was very thorough. He believes that the proposal process had been commingled with a competitive bid process, and that leads to the question as to whether anyone but the second-low bidder has standing to challenge the process.

Board member Kevass Harding asked whether the process — 400 hours of time plus travel expenses — was wrong? Board counsel Tom Powell said the process was thorough. The question, he said, was whether the Kansas bid law applied in this situation. The decision of the committee was that we couldn’t come to a conclusion as to what had been done complied with the bid law.

Board member Connie Dietz asked why this process must be a competitive bid rather than a request for proposal. After a follow-up question, Powell said that this process should have been a competitive bid.

Dietz asked what happens to the timeline, if we support the committee? The district had wanted to have the field in place for the fall, but now that goal is not achievable.

She also asked what happens if the board stands by its previous decision? Powell answered “we’ll go to court.”

After an executive session of about 30 minutes and a few additional questions, board member Barb Fuller moved that the bid be revoked and the turf fields be put out for competitive bid.

Board member Lanora Nolan warned against “buying the cheap.” She said her greatest frustration is when “adult” issues get in the way of what’s best for kids. She also noted that none of the citizens who spoke to the board on this matter mentioned what’s best for kids. That’s heartbreaking, she said, to talk about taxpayer money and not what’s best for kids.

The motion passed unanimously.

After the meeting, citizen John Todd said “How is it that you [USD 259] can break the law — violating a state statute — and anyone that advocates for the taxpayer get criticized because they’re against children.”

It is now apparent that the process of acquiring these turf fields was flawed from the start. Somehow, the district started an expensive selection process that is contrary to what is now apparent the law requires, according to Powell’s interpretation. 400 hours of time plus travel expenses (my request for these expense records is being fulfilled) is now largely wasted, although some of the experience gained will be used in writing the specifications for the bid process.

Also, a season will go by without new artificial athletic fields.

If the board wants to assess blame, it should investigate who it was that authorized this expensive and flawed process. In particular, was the process approved by the district’s legal counsel, either internal or external?

Certainly the district has legal staff at its disposal. Last year during the bond issue campaign the district’s lawyers had time enough to threaten to sue a citizen group because the apple they used was similar to the apple the district uses in its logo.

If the district has the legal resources to harass citizen groups about the use of a generic apple logo, why can’t they get these big things right?

The Wichita school district talks about accountability. Here’s a chance to show that they actually mean it. Investigate and find who is responsible for this.

Coverage from the Wichita Eagle is at Wichita district nixes turf builder’s contract.

At Wichita school district, it’s always kids first, sometimes

At a recent meeting of the board of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, board member Connie Dietz affirmed the district’s policy of always putting kids first. At least in words, that is.

Scolding a member of the Kansas State Board of Education, she said “This board always, always puts children first. And don’t you ever come back to us again and say we don’t, because we always put kids first.”

(The video is at Wichita school board video shows why members should not be re-elected.)

Ms. Dietz’s indignation might be a little more convincing if the board’s actions and policies actually backed up her words.

A look at the credit card records of past superintendent Winston Brooks, so beloved by Dietz, shows that it’s really not all about the kids. Not when you can dine at taxpayer expense in restaurants like the Capital Grille, among the swankiest and most expensive steakhouses around. Or stay in expensive hotels like the Raphael in Kansas City, described on its website as “Kansas City’s Original Boutique Hotel.”

(See Credit Card Records Give Insight to Wichita School District Management and Priorities for more.)

Wichita election results equal status quo, worse

The result of yesterday’s elections in Wichita is an endorsement for the status quo. For those interested in liberty, free markets, and education in Wichita, the election was a total disaster.

On the Wichita city council, the two incumbents running for re-election won. For the open seat, Janet Miller won. While her website talks of fiscal responsibility, it’s a safe bet that Miller is on the side of increasing the size, scope, and intrusiveness of city government.

The election of Miller doesn’t signal a huge shift on the council, as Sharon Fearey, her predecessor, favored an expansionary city government.

For the board of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, all four incumbents won. This is terrible news for Wichita schoolchildren and taxpayers. As outlined in my post Wichita school board members should not be re-elected, the Wichita school district is moving exactly in the wrong direction on many issues.

The board members have a bad attitude, too. Walt Chappell, a member of the Kansas State Board of Education, recently experienced the overbearing arrogance of this board. My post Wichita school board video shows why members should not be re-elected holds the video that exposes these attitudes.

But as reported in the Wichita Eagle, board members are pleased. Connie Dietz actually said “This wasn’t time for new people to be on the board.”

When people like Dietz believe that they — and only they — have the ability to successfully run the Wichita schools, we’re in a lot of trouble. Wichita schoolchildren now face great danger, as any possibility of meaningful reform in the Wichita school district is becoming less likely.

Dr. Chappell asks the Wichita school board to NOT sell bonds

After seeing the way several members of the board of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, treated Kansas State Board of Education member Walt Chappell at last Monday’s meeting, I contacted him. I was curious as to what his rebuttal would be to the scolding he received from board members Connie Dietz and Betty Arnold. Board president Lynn Rogers was gentler, but no less contemptuous. See the post Wichita school board video shows why members should not be re-elected for more coverage of this, including video.

You can read the agenda for this meeting by clicking on Board of Education Agenda for March 30, 2009. Also click on Board of Education Minutes for March 30, 2009 (Unapproved).

Here’s Chappell’s response in its entirety.

The decisions which must be made by all elected officials, businesses and families during this economic crisis are how to pay for top priority needs with less income. My main concern with the USD 259 School Board’s unanimous decision to spend over $1 million dollars on the Consent Agenda without any discussion at the March 30th meeting is that capital outlay funds are first needed to build classrooms and buy equipment to teach our students employable skills. Only 1% of the State and Local education is spent on vocational education.

Instead, the USD 259 Board approved $265,000 dollars to pave two parking lots at Cessna and Stanley Elementary which have only a few small holes which could be easily patched in two hours instead of pouring concrete over the whole area. They approved buying two small parcels of land for $192,000, bought a gym divider for $45,100 at Gammon elementary school and approved $553,985 to redo about 40% of the roof at Truesdell Middle School rather than fix a few leaks.

The Agenda item I was addressing that night had to do with the broader issue of whether the USD 259 School Board should start selling bonds to pay for the massive new $370 million dollar construction projects. In the November, 2008 election, voters in only 9 Kansas school districts approved $800 million in new school bonds which impacts the whole State budget.

The major problem for the Legislature is that each time a few districts pay principle and interest on their bonds, it is a demand transfer out of the Kansas General Fund budget. This means less money available for all State programs. USD 259 is demanding that the Legislature hold back $92.5 million dollars plus interest in revenue to cover the 25% State portion of these bonds. It is like a person building a fence on their property and then demanding that all of the neighbors on the block share the cost.

Building new general education classrooms and sports complexes during this economic crisis is the wrong decision. The money which the State Legislature is forced to pay for these bonds is needed to pay our teachers and teach employable skills to our students. We should not “Rob Peter to Pay Paul”.

For example, in USD 259, over $5 million needs to be cut from next year’s budget because the State revenues are over $1 billion short for fiscal year 2010, which starts on July 1, 2009. In addition, the Kansas Career Pipeline which matches students with resources to train them to earn a living is being canceled. Driver’s Education, the Kansas School for the Deaf and the Kansas School for the Blind are other programs which may be cut to balance the State budget. Because there is not enough tax revenue coming in and K-12 school districts refuse to make significant cost reductions in the 51% of the State funds they already receive, the Legislature has cut Higher Education in Kansas by $63 million dollars, closed prisons and rehab programs, and stopped other vital programs throughout our State.

The irony of the dismissive and angry comments from several USD 259 Board members after I spoke briefly in the three minute public comment agenda is that I fully understand the relationship between selling bonds to build sports complexes, pave parking lots and classrooms we can do without and the cuts forced on the rest of Kansas by their determination to sell these bonds in spite of the massive downturn in our economy. I studied school finance during my doctoral program at Michigan State University. I have served as an elected K-12 school board member and as Budget coordinator on that board know about capital outlay spending restrictions. I have also been the Budget and Planning Director for a six-state federal education project which included 125 schools plus wrote an Amicus brief in the Kansas Montoy school finance law suit. This information has been on my website at www.chappell4ksboe.com for nearly a year.

The fact is that selling school bonds in the foreseeable future is a grave mistake. It is taking money out of the State General Fund which is needed to pay our teachers, teach our kids employable skills, keep the tuition from rising even further at our universities and colleges, keep our communities safe and provide vital services to thousands of Kansans. The contractors and architects in Wichita who paid over $185,000 to buy TV ads plus thousands of yard signs and buttons saying 25% State money want our tax dollars to go into their pockets. This is pure greed — not educational necessity.

I ask that the USD 259 Board hold off selling any school bonds for new construction until our State budget has money to pay for these low priority wants. It is essential that decision makers at all levels tighten our belts and make sure that vital services and programs are funded first. The emphasis for capital outlay funds which districts already have, needs to be on remodeling and equipping special classrooms to teach our kids employable skills — not swimming pools, tennis courts, football fields or paving parking lots.

Respectfully submitted,
Walt Chappell, Ph.D.

Wichita school board video shows why members should not be re-elected

On Monday March 30, 2009, Walt Chappell, who was recently elected to the Kansas State Board of Education and whose district overlaps some of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, spoke before that district’s board. The hostile reaction by board members, which you may view on video that I captured, is remarkable for the insight it gives us into the board and its members. Wichitans should have no confidence in the governing ability of this board, whether they have children in Wichita schools or not.

Chappell has a lot of experience and understanding of education issues in Kansas. His hostile reception by the board members is all the more surprising given his role as a member of the Kansas State Board of Education.

I’ve talked to several citizens about the behavior of board members, especially Connie Dietz and Betty Arnold, and to a lesser extent Lynn Rogers.

“Offensive” and “unprofessional” were common reactions. “Dripping with inappropriate indignation” was one I thought was particularly perceptive.

Especially with regard to Dietz, people said it was though she was scolding a child instead of speaking to a member of the Kansas State Board of Education.

Certainly these three board members were dismissive of Chappell and his input. This is characteristic of this board and the entire district. They’re willing to accept citizen input when citizens agree with them. Otherwise, watch out.

When an elected official — especially one with some ability to shape policy that the Wichita board must follow — is treated this way, what treatment should regular citizens expect if they appear before this board in opposition?

I’ve had a dose of this myself a few times before this board. Last year Arnold tried to bargain for my support of the bond issue by proposing to give me the information I as a citizen had requested. As reported in the Wichita Eagle:

“So if you had the correct information,” board member Betty Arnold asked Weeks, “then would you support the bond issue?”

“If I had correct information, then I could make a decision,” Weeks answered.

Evidently it’s outside the ability of Arnold — and the other board members, for that matter — to understand that anyone could be against the bond issue for any reason.

Unfortunately, Arnold has no opponent in tomorrow’s election. Dietz and Rogers do. For the behavior shown here — and for many other reasons (click on Wichita school board members should not be re-elected) — Wichitans should vote against these members.

Karen Walker for Wichita school board

Karen Walker is a strong candidate for board of USD 259, the Wichita public school district.

Her commitment to fiscal responsibility is refreshing. With training and experience in accounting and auditing, she will help hold down costs plus provide transparency about where our tax dollars are being spent in Wichita schools.

Connie Dietz is her opponent. For years, Dietz has been a major obstacle on the Wichita Board of Education to any significant change in how our students are taught or ways to reduce costs. She made the motion to add $20 million to the bond election to build expensive sports complexes at every high school rather than upgrade our classrooms to teach employable skills. Now her campaign is being funded by the architects and contractors who will profit from this construction. (See Wichita school board of education campaign contributions.)

It is time to elect a person to replace Connie Dietz — someone who will stand up for students, teachers, and the taxpayers. Karen Walker has the experience and willingness to serve the students of USD259 and taxpayers — not the special interests who want more of our tax dollars to line their own pockets.

You can learn more about Karen Walker by clicking on Karen Walker for Wichita Board of Education.

Wichita school board members should not be re-elected

Next Tuesday, four members of the board of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, seek to be elected again to their current posts.

These members — Lanora Nolan, Lynn Rogers, Connie Dietz and Betty Arnold — are part of a board and school district that is increasingly out-of-step with education reforms that are working in other parts of the country. Their policies and actions are harmful to both Wichita schoolchildren and Wichita taxpayers.

At the time when most of the country is starting to realize that quality teachers, not the number of teachers, is what makes the biggest difference in student outcomes, the Wichita school district is going the wrong way. The bond issue, with its focus on reducing class size, will force the district to hire more teachers. This makes it more likely that schoolchildren in Wichita will be taught by poorly-performing teachers.

Its contract with its teachers union forbids any type of merit pay that might induce the best teachers to stay in teaching. Instead, all teachers are paid the same. Only length of service and extra education credentials allow teachers to earn more. Now researchers have found that length of service and the credentials earned at university schools of education make very little difference in student outcomes.

Across the country parents can take advantage of school choices programs such as charter schools, vouchers, and tax credits. These programs give parents — instead of school administrators and politicians — choice as to where to send their children to school. In some cases, they allow parents to decide how their own tax dollars should be spent. The Wichita school district, including its board and the incumbent candidates that stand for election next week, are firmly against these type of programs that have benefited many students and parents. They prefer a government monopoly.

The Wichita school district and its board are miles behind other school districts and governmental agencies regarding transparency and openness. Its recent search for a new superintendent was conducted in such a secretive manner that even the Wichita Eagle’s Rhonda Holman — one of the district’s several apologists at that newspaper — was critical.

The district and board’s attitude towards citizens is nothing less than hostile. In particular, board member, now board president, Lynn Rogers has told citizens that records requests are a burden to the district. When citizens ask for evidence of claims the district makes, Rogers advises them to use Google to look things up for themselves.

The board gets even little things wrong. For example, the board’s agenda that’s posted on the USD 259 website holds appendixes, which are usually attached files that hold additional information such as a Powerpoint presentation. But these files are removed quickly after the meeting. Most governmental agencies leave them available for eternity.

Three board members, in their joint campaign materials, state they are proud of 11 years of rising test scores. Across the country school districts and states have watered-down testing standards in response to political pressure to produce rising test scores. Is this the case in Wichita and Kansas? We don’t know. But as scores rise on tests administered by the state, they remain unchanged on the national tests that are immune from local political pressures.

The fact that all of the candidates facing election challenges have advertised jointly is evidence of another severe problem on the Wichita board of education: Rarely is there controversy or evidence of independent thought by board members. Consider the bond issue from last year, which passed narrowly (51 percent to 49 percent) when voted on by the public. Board members were unanimous in their support of the bond issue. What are the odds of that? (Well, board member Jeff Davis initially dissented, but only because he thought his district didn’t get its fair share. His straying from the board’s groupthink mentality was short-lived, however, as at the next meeting he changed his vote.)

Then there’s the bond issue from last year. One analysis found that 72% of the contributions, both in-kind and cash, came from contractors, architects, engineering firms and others who directly stand to benefit from the new construction. The board rewarded Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey Architecture for its efforts in passing the bond issue with a no-bid $3.7 million contract to manage the bond issue.

As large as the bond issue is, to board members it’s not enough. Board members started with a list of projects that totaled some $550 million. These projects are on the back burner, and as soon as this board senses the time is right, it will propose another bond issue. Count on it.

We should remember the board’s conduct during the election. Calling a special election to be held in May, the board delayed it when it appeared the political landscape was not in their favor — after their opponents had mobilized and spent resources. The board appeared to rely on a hapless citizen group during the summer months for recommendations. Despite the district’s denials, huge amounts of district resources, all provided by taxpayers, were used to promote the bond issue.

This Wichita school district and its board is an institution firmly rooted in and preferring a big-government style of education monopoly. It ignores evidence of reforms that work, preferring to remain beholden to special interests such as the teachers union, education bureaucrats, and firms that benefit from school construction. None of its members deserve re-election.

Wichita school board of education campaign contributions

Recent campaign finance reports filed by candidates for the board of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, show some contributions that may be of interest to Wichita voters.

I’ve compiled a table of some of the contributions. This table is not comprehensive. It includes only the three incumbent candidates that have challengers: Lanora Nolan, Lynn Rogers, and Connie Dietz.

Joe Johnson, head of Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey Architecture, the firm that the Wichita school district selected without any competitive bidding to manage the implementation of the bond issue and the largest contributor to the bond issue campaign from last year, says “thank you” to several candidates. But it’s rather tepid, to say the least, as he could have contributed $500. And what didn’t Lanora Nolan do to earn the gratitude of Johnson? She received just $149, with the other two incumbent candidates receiving $250 each.

Unions contributed. United Teachers of Wichita, the Wichita teachers union, contributed the same amount to all three incumbents. That union will be negotiating its contract with the board sometime soon.

Unions involved in construction trades — Plumbers and Pipefitters Union and Wichita-Hutchinson Labor Federation — contributed the maximum amount to some of the incumbent candidates. It’s not clear as to their motive: thank you for passing the big bond issue? Of the three incumbent candidates, it’s Lynn Rogers that seems to be most appreciated by the trade unions. Lanora Nolan received no contributions from these unions.

Rogers also received $300 from Kansas Families for Education PAC, a group from Johnson County that advocates — incessantly, and without regard to facts — for more funding for public schools.

Lanora Nolan and her husband made a large contribution to her campaign. It also received $500 contributions from companies her husband is associated with.
Wichita school board campaign contributions 2009

Increasing the Wichita School Bond Issue: Why Was Courage Required?

Talking to news media during a break in the meeting of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, on Monday August 11, 2008, Connie Dietz referred to her surprise motion to increase the amount being asked for by $20 million, remarking “I knew what I wanted to do, and I guess I was trying to find the courage to do it.”

Personally, I want to take Ms. Dietz at her word when she says that her motion was unplanned. But I’ve talked to quite a few people in the community, and no one I’ve talked to believes that the board’s action at Monday’s meeting was not scripted in advance. I can understand how people might feel this way. The interplay between the actions of a citizens group and the board this summer rightly heaps suspicion on both groups, not to mention on Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey Architecture, who many suspect is really directing the action in this drama. This architectural firm has a huge financial incentive for passing the largest bond issue possible.

But here’s my question: I wonder why it took courage to make this motion. After all, it’s for the “kids, kids, kids,” as board president Lynn Rogers said. And according to news reports, the district started with a list of $550 million in needed items, and then cut that down to the $350 million originally proposed for this bond issue. So this motion gets things closer to what the district believes it really needs.

So why the need for courage? Why stop at $370 million?

Could it be that Ms. Dietz realizes that the way the Wichita public schools raise money is through the force of government coercion?

Could it be that Ms. Dietz realizes the Wichita school district already has a tremendously large budget by any measure, and that asking for more would appear greedy?

Coould it be that Ms. Dietz has become aware of the Wichita school district’s monopoly on the use of public money for education, and how harmful this is to Wichita schoolchildren?

How to Pass the Wichita School Bond Issue

For tonight’s meeting of the board of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, a resolution has been prepared that calls for a vote on a proposed bond issue to be held on November 4, 2008. I don’t know if the board will vote to approve this measure or if they will even take a vote tonight, but I suspect the resolution will pass.

Randy Scholfield’s editorial Put school bond issue to public vote is correct in its assessment of the feckless campaign in favor of the bond issue. But it’s not all the fault of the school board or the district. That’s because the school district is constrained by laws that prohibit campaigning directly for the bond issue. It can undertake educational and informational campaigns only. (Not that this has stopped board members from making their opinions known. Connie Dietz: “I will do just about anything to ensure this bond issue is passed.” Barb Fuller: “I think our goal is to get this bond issue passed.”)

This law leads to the present situation where the development of the bond issue plan and its associated campaign is placed in the hands of either a citizen group with believability problems or Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey Architecture, an architectural firm with a huge financial incentive for passing the largest bond issue possible. See Wichita School Bond Issue: What We Don’t Know.

Citizens can have confidence and trust in government when it acts in an open and transparent manner. As shown in my post Wichita Public Schools: Open Records Requests Are a Burden, transparency is not a strength of the Wichita school district. This confusion over who is in charge of formulating the bond issue plan and running the campaign further harms the district’s reputation.

There is a solution, however, that would give the pro-bond group needed transparency and leadership.

There are two Wichita school board members whose terms of office end next year. These two members presently hold or recently held leadership positions. Either or both of these members — current president Lynn Rogers and immediate past president Connie Dietz — might consider resigning from the board so that they could lead the bond issue campaign.

Then, they could run for their former positions on the school board in the primary and general elections next March and April.

It would be a shame that the board would have to make do without their membership for a while. But given the difficulty in finding someone to effectively lead the bond issue campaign, something needs to happen if there is going to be a real debate about the bond issue this fall.

Wichita School Board Poisons Democracy

You may listen to this article in audio form by clicking here.

On February 11, 2008, the board of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, passed a resolution calling for a special election to be held on May 6, 2008, so that citizens could vote on a $350 million bond issue.

On April 7, 2008, the same board held a special meeting at the request of Citizens Alliance for Responsible Education, a group that supports the passage of the bond issue. Two members of CARE asked the board to delay the election. As the meeting agenda did not allow for public comment, none was entertained by board president Connie Dietz, even though several people had followed USD 259 procedure and asked the clerk of the board to speak at the meeting. By unanimous vote, the board agreed to delay the election until no later than November 4, 2008.

The resolution that the board passed in February establishing the May election set two citizen groups that oppose the bond issue into action. These groups have spent money, time, and effort preparing for a May election. All that is now, apparently, wasted.

This action of the board of the Wichita school district poisons democracy. It gives the board and its apparently allied campaign group a tremendous advantage that no other group has, and by law, cannot have. The opposition groups can’t control the election schedule to suit the needs of their campaigns. We have to trust that when the Wichita school board passes a resolution declaring that an election will be held on a certain date, that this election will actually take place.

At present, there is no date set for the bond issue election. When the board sets a revised election date, is it to be believed? When the date is set, opposition groups will be forced to mobilize a second time, making plans and expending precious resources based on the revised election date.

Speculation around town is that the Wichita school board and the CARE group felt they were going to lose a May election, and that is the reason for a delay. If they again feel they are going to lose on the revised election date, will the board delay that election too?

At the April 7 meeting, board member Jeff Davis asked how much money had the school district already spent preparing for the May election. It seems that he was not concerned with how much the opposition had spent. Mr. Davis is a sargeant in the Wichita Police Department, a man who should be concerned about theft. His vote to delay the election amounts to just that — the theft of the time, money, and resources of his political opponents.

Personally, the saddest realization is that it seems the members of Wichita school board and CARE don’t recognize the toxic effects of their actions on the democratic process. Not only them: two members of the Wichita Eagle editorial board wrote separate editorials supporting the delay.

Even worse for the citizens of Wichita is perhaps they understand precisely what they’re doing.

Wichita School System Extends Its Monopoly

On Saturday February 12, 2005 I attended a meeting of the South Central Kansas Legislative Delegation. Lynn Rogers, then the USD 259 (the Wichita public school district) school board president, and Connie Dietz, then vice-president of the same body, attended. There had been a proposal to spend an additional $415 million over the next three years on schools. Asked if this would be enough to meet their needs, the Wichita school board members replied, “No.”

At least Mr. Rogers was not lying. More spending than that was approved, and true to his word, the Wichita Board of Education found it necessary this week to raise taxes so the public schools could have even more money.

I can’t speak for Mr. Rogers, but I imagine that this tax increase is viewed as only a temporary stop-gap measure until some more substantial funding can be obtained.

By the way, do you know that the Wichita Public School System has a marketing department? I wonder why an organization that requires customers to consume its product through compulsory attendance laws, that has the ability to raise funds through the coercive force of the state, and that has a government-mandated monopoly on the use of public education funds needs such a department. Then someone told me that’s where the school system’s lobbyists are. (I haven’t been able to verify that.) Now it made sense to me. The audience the school system is marketing to: the legislature and the governor.

And what do we get for all this? According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, only one-third of Kansas eighth-graders (Wichita figures are not separately available) are considered “proficient” in mathematics, reading, and writing. (The State of Kansas, as do most states, reports much higher proficiency rates on its own tests, but these tests are subject to local pressure to show good results.)

Not much, it seems.

School choice initiatives are springing up all over the country except in Kansas, where the education bureaucracy remains entrenched, aided by one business that should have a vested interested in well-educated potential customers. Earlier this year Wichita Eagle editorialist Rhonda Holman poked fun at some school board candidates because they were interested in charter schools and vouchers. If things proceed as they have, in another generation few Kansas high schools graduates will be able to read Ms. Holman’s editorials.

Does that sound far-fetched? Consider a recent study by the American Institutes for Research, which found that “over half the graduates of four-year colleges and three-quarters of the graduates of junior and community colleges could not be categorized as possessing these ‘proficient’ skills.” At what skills are they not proficient? Understanding newspaper editorials was one such skill.

Local school districts claim they want to be held accountable, but they strenuously resist the one way that provides true accountability. That way is the market, where people vote with their dollars and the future welfare of their children.

True accountability can be achieved in only one way: let the government of the State of Kansas relinquish its monopoly on the financing and production of schooling — the very type of monopoly power that, if wielded by private enterprise, would be condemned as unjust and immoral.

Latest Federal School Finance Spending Revealed

Here is an article from the Kansas Taxpayers Network that reports on school spending: http://www.kansastaxpayers.com/editorial_fedschool.html.

On Saturday February 12, 2005 I attended a meeting of the South Central Kansas Legislative Delegation. Lynn Rogers, USD 259 School Board President, and Connie Dietz, Vice-President of the same body, attended. There has been a proposal to spend an additional $415 million over the next three years on schools. Asked if this would be enough to meet their needs, the Wichita school board members replied, “No.”