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.
Walt Chappell, Ph.D.