Tag Archives: Lanora Nolan

When informed, attitudes toward public school spending change

One of the problems with forming public policy is the lack of information possessed by the general public, and, sometimes, even by elected officials. A recent research report published by the Hoover Institution titled Educating the Public measures the problem.

Importantly, this report shows the changes in people’s attitudes after they receive correct information.

I’ve experienced the lack of information about basic facts myself. Last year a colleague and I conducted some “man-on-the-street” interviews during the bond issue campaign. Very few people knew how much the Wichita school district spent. Most estimated levels of spending less than half of actual spending.

It’s not just the public. Elected officials like Rep. Melody McCray-Miller and Wichita school board member Lanora Nolan have disputed the total amount of spending by the Wichita school district when presented with the actual figures.

The following excerpt from the press release gives more information.

When Provided with Accurate Information, Public Support for Increased Spending on Schools and Teacher Salaries Declines, Researchers Find

Cambridge — The better informed people are, the more likely they are to oppose increased school spending. That is a key finding in a newly released survey, “Educating the Public,” conducted by Education Next and the Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG) at Harvard University. The survey is posted on the Education Next website: www.educationnext.org. (The direct link to the study is Educating the Public.)

Survey results indicate that if the public is given accurate information about what is currently being spent on public schools, their support for increased spending and their confidence that more spending will improve student learning both decline. Education researchers William G. Howell of the University of Chicago and Martin R. West of Brown University also found that knowing how much the average teacher earns lowers support among the general public for salary increases.

To understand how public opinions shift, Howell and West embedded a series of experiments within the Education Next/PEPG survey by dividing respondents into randomly chosen groups: some were simply asked their opinion about school spending and teacher salaries, while others were first provided with accurate information about each of these issues.

The average per-pupil spending estimate from respondents to the 2008 Education Next/PEPG survey was $4,231, and the median response was just $2,000; but for these respondents, local average spending per pupil at the time exceeded $10,000. When told how much the local schools were spending, support for increased spending dropped by 10 percentage points, from 61 percent to a bare majority of 51 percent.

Howell and West find that these differences in opinion based on exposure to key information are consistent across a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds, views about the local public schools, and political ideologies.

“It’s clear that the American public is quite willing to update its views in light of new information about public schools,” Howell and West said.

Interestingly, note Howell and West, differences also appear among teachers, whom one might believe already have deeply entrenched and well-informed views about public education. Whereas 35 percent of teachers not specifically informed of spending levels claimed that spending should “greatly increase,” only 22 percent of those who were told the amount of money spent to educate a child in their district thought so. Additionally, 29 percent of uninformed teachers expressed strong confidence that increased spending would boost student learning. When exposed to the current spending in their district, however, that confidence dropped by 9 percent.

As with per-pupil expenditures, the public significantly underestimates how much their states pay public school teachers. On average, Education Next/PEPG survey respondents underestimated average teacher salaries in their state by more than $14,000, nearly one-third of the actual average salaries of $47,000.

Wichita BOE’s Nolan expresses concern

At Monday’s meeting of the board of USD 259, the Wichita public school district, board members expressed frustration over the mishandling of a construction contract. It’s not clear where fault lies, or whether the board has any interest in finding where that fault should be laid.

At the meeting, board member Lanora Nolan expressed dismay that none of the public speakers mentioned the kids. The school district has a larger responsibility than just the education of children, however. It needs to be responsible to taxpayers — the “adult issues” Nolan bemoans.

She also said the delay of the fields is not in the best interest of kids. I hope she looks into who is responsible for this mishandling of this process.

She wants to “get the legal boundaries changed” so that the board is never in the position of not being able to vote on what’s best for kids. It may not occur to her that if the process had been managed correctly from the start, the board probably could have voted at that meeting on a contract that would get new fields for the fall.

Citizen comment about Nolan’s remarks that I received included these:

“The mindset that what is best for the kids should override how much something costs, according to Nolan.”

“The truth of the matter is, the Wichita school board approved the bidding process in a manner, as explained by their own attorney, that was in violation of state law, and therefore he advised the board to withdraw its approval of the turf contract. If the ‘kids’ were damaged in any way, it would appear to me that the responsibility for that damage should rest solely with the governing body that voted to approve what turned out to be a potentially legally flawed contract bid.”

“Anyone who speaks up for the people who pay USD 259 taxes is subjected to anger and scorn from the board. I can’t recall any board member ever expressing any concern about the parents, grandparents, and/or other taxpayers who struggle to pay for the necessities of food, clothing, and shelter while facing ever increasing taxes courtesy of the USD 259 board. The board loves to talk about children from low income families in the district who are eligible for free or reduced lunches. … Did anyone on the board ever consider the possibility that high taxes might be a major cause of low family income and poverty?”

“I believe Ms. Nolan’s rant should have been more appropriately directed towards herself, the school board, and the people the board holds responsible for creating or managing board contracts. The board approved what turned out to be a flawed and — what its own attorney confirmed — an illegal contract. Who was responsible with this error? Does the board’s attorney bear any responsibility for this error? Do the board’s attorneys have errors and omission insurance the board can levy against? Who was responsible for creating the turf project specifications? Was there an architectural firm responsible for this project? What responsibility do they bear?”

Answering this question, I spoke with Joe Johnson of Schaefer Johnson Cox Frey Architecture, the firm that is managing the overall bond project. He told me that his firm wasn’t involved in this turf vendor selection process, and they’re not taking their 1% management fee for this. Perhaps if this firm had been involved this mess could have been avoided — an example where Nolan’s warning of “buying on the cheap” might apply.

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.

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.

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

Barb Fuller: Feds should pay, and leave us alone

In an op-ed piece printed in the Wichita Eagle (“Barb Fuller: Feds should facilitate, not dictate, on education,” February 20, 2009 Wichita Eagle, no longer available online), Wichita school board vice president Barb Fuller makes, indirectly, the case that the U.S. Federal government should fund education, but keep its nose out of how local school boards spend the money.

Her piece explains that USD 259, the Wichita public school district, like most school districts, are chafing under the “unfunded mandates” that the No Child Left Behind law calls for. She concludes that “Consequently, it makes sense for immediate suspension of the current NCLB sanctions.”

The fact is that the Wichita school district has tremendous funds at its disposal, some $13,000 per pupil per year. Board members don’t like to talk about that, as evidenced by board member Lanora Nolan‘s answer to a question at a recent Wichita Pachyderm meeting. She denied the numbers and the simple arithmetic behind a question.

Fuller writes “The federal government should be involved in helping make measures consistent throughout the states.” This is something that she may someday wish she hadn’t asked for. Here’s what education writer Diane Ravitch wrote in The Obama Education Agenda “Despite White House press claims to the contrary, NCLB has been a huge disappointment, and its failure is not due to lack of funding. Although states are reporting impressive test-score gains, most of these ‘gains’ are inflated by home-grown, low standards. The gains on the highly respected federal National Assessment of Educational Progress have been meager since 2002. In fact, the gains on the federal test have been smaller since 2002 than in the years preceding NCLB.”

It would definitely be useful to know whether the rising test scores in Kansas are genuine. In particular, the Wichita school district claims 11 years of rising test scores. I don’t think that people who have to deal with Wichita high school graduates year after year would think these gains are reliable and valid measures of the quality of the product produced by the district.

In her piece, Fuller also makes the case to “not deny accountability.” This is quite an irony, as Fuller’s previous role of president of the teachers union was to do just that: avoid accountability. Furthermore, the Wichita school district’s opposition to meaningful school choice means it dodges the only accountability that will really make a difference: the ability of parents, particularly poor parents, to escape the Wichita school district.