Act now to vote in August

Kansans know that our state’s public schools are pulling through a very difficult time. So it never surprises me when I’m asked the question, “What can I do to help?”

My answer is simple: VOTE. We live in a wonderful state that’s been made strong by generations of voting Kansans. In our democracy, your vote is your voice.

We all know that there will be a big election in November — but Kansans have a critical opportunity to vote in the August primaries. Are you concerned about the future funding of our schools? The funding of the KPERS retirement system? The future of Kansas public education? VOTE in the August primaries. Here’s what you need to do:

VOTE for KANSAS

  • Today: Make sure you’re registered to vote by clicking here. If you’ve moved or changed your name, you must re-register.
  • This week: Apply for mail ballot for the August Primary. Summer is a busy time for families and employees — a mail ballot allows you to vote from home, when it’s convenient for you. Click here to apply TODAY to receive a ballot by mail. Complete the form before you leave work for the summer (be sure to fill in “Primary August 2” on Section 5 of the form), and you’ll be set to make your vote count in August.
  • Before NOON on Wednesday, June 1: Go to your county election office and select the party affiliation (Republican or Democrat) for the primary you want to vote in on Aug. 2. Click here for a printable voter application and party designation form or find online registration information here. If you aren’t sure which primary you want to vote in yet, change your registration to Unaffiliated before this deadline. You can then request a Republican OR Democratic ballot at your polling place on Aug. 2. (If you do this, you will need to complete paperwork at the poll to affiliate with the party whose ballot you select.) If you are doing a mail-in ballot, you must designate your party affiliation before noon on June 1.
  • Before Tuesday, August 2: Find out who will be on the Republican and Democratic primary ballots — and learn their positions on the issues that are important to you. Review voting records, campaign literature, websites and personal conversations or e-mails to decide which candidates best match your views.
  • On or before Tuesday, August 2:  CAST YOUR VOTE! In person advance voting begins 20 days before the Aug. 2 primary.

If you select a party affiliation before June 1, or at your polling place on Aug. 2, you can always change your affiliation after the primary by contacting your county election office. And remember, your party affiliation never affects your voting options in a November general election.

POLLING PLACE 3Whether by mail or in person, THANK YOU for voting in the August primary. By casting a ballot, you will join the generations of great Kansans before us who helped build this state — and help ensure a strong Kansas for the generations to come.

Easy Choices, Hard Choices, Right Choices

Life is filled with choices — some easy, others less so. When I was a student, I could choose to do my homework in a timely manner. If I did, I’d retain my eligibility for sports and maybe even stay in my parents’ good graces. Sometimes the consequences of choices are harder to see in the moment. Shortly after getting my first car, I met a Kansas Highway Patrol trooper who saw my speeding as a bit of a problem. Short-term choice that got me to school on time actually ended with a less pleasant long-term consequence – citation for speeding plus the loss of driving privileges.

The State of Kansas is out of money. As you’ve probably seen in the news, Kansas has, yet again, failed to generate the money needed to meet its obligations. The tax policy changes passed by the legislature in 2012 with the promise of creating growth, have not delivered. And again, Gov. Brownback and the Kansas Legislature are proposing cuts to spending and transfers from one state fund to another. Like transfers from a savings account to a checking account, this is a temporary band-aid because there is no more money coming in to replace it. But for the people making these decisions, a temporary fix may seem easier right now than a lasting solution.

SclassroomOne choice offered by the governor is to cut spending on K-12 schools by about $57 million dollars, or $124 per student. (See below for an outline of the three options Gov. Brownback proposed.) In Eudora, this translates to a cut for the 2016-17 school of about $210,000. What does $210,000 translate to? Well, it’s the same as of 4.5 teaching positions. It’s the cost of all extracurricular activities. It’s the money it will take to replace the two buses and van that we need to transport students next year. We have no easy choices here.

Right now, our community is being forced into yet another a situation that has nothing to do with anything in Eudora. Legislative decisions on tax policy have created cash flow problems for every school and community in Kansas. The governor proposed three choices (details are below). All three of these are temporary fixes — easy choices today, but ones that have long-reaching negative consequences for the people of Kansas. Where is the hard — but right — choice to correct the tax policy that has created this state budget crisis? Where is the hard — but right — choice to fix the state’s revenue problem and begin adequately funding state services again?

Our community understands the importance of a quality education, and our locally elected school board has made hard choices, over many years, to round out local property tax increases with increases in fees, reductions in expenses and cuts to services and programs. It is time now for our elected officials to make the hard — but right — choices. Set aside partisan, election year politics. Restore stable revenue sources that fund state services. And choose to put our state back on stable financial ground.

And it’s time now for you — for all of us — to reach out to our elected officials and let them know what’s important to you, and what’s at stake in Eudora. Go to openstates.org to find contact information for the people elected to represent you in Topeka.


Governor’s Proposed Options:

Option 1

  • Transfer $70 million from State Highway Fund to State General Fund in FY16 and $115 million in FY17
  • Carry forward a 3% reduction in aid to Universities in FY16
  • Securitize future tobacco settlement payments in excess of $42 million for about $158 million in FY17

Option 2

  • Transfer $70 million from State Highway Fund to State General Fund in FY16 and $115 million in FY17
  • Carry forward a 3% reduction in aid to Universities in FY16
  • Reduce expenditures or transfer $25 million in targeted efficiency savings
  • Delay FY16 fourth quarter KPERS payment that would not be made until FY18

Option 3

  • Transfer $70 million from State Highway Fund to State General Fund in FY16 and $115 million in FY17
  • 3-5% expenditure reductions would be made to most state agencies for FY17 totaling $139 million
  • $57,262.285 reduction from the Kansas Department of Education

 

Click here to view the Governor’s budget amendment.

 

 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

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I am certain that each of us has memories of our childhood that today we remember as though it were yesterday. Christmas and New Years seem to provide us with some of the most vivid. I am reminded of the times as a child when I walked into my grandparents homes to find Christmas trees cut fresh from the pasture and draped in tinsel and lights. The smell of cedar and baked goods permeated every space in the house. Everything seemed so simple then (unless you were trying to use the nutcracker to open walnuts).

Looking back today, I think it’s really the “not so obvious” things that I miss the most. I remember the time spent with family, often with aunts, uncles and cousins that we didn’t see very often — and the disappointment when it was time for them to leave, knowing it could be another year before we would get together again. It was a time of “doing for others” simply because that’s what we do here in Kansas…scooping out a neighbor’s snowy driveway, helping to rake the last of the fallen leaves, or delivering homemade treats to a neighbor. It was the sweet aroma of one grandfather’s pipe and the joyful music from my other grandfather’s harmonica.  

This year, I would like to extend a sincere Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you. No matter your family’s traditions and celebrations, I hope you’ll remember what matters most — kindness to others and time with the people who mean the most to you. May these blessings rekindle your favorite memories and experiences, so special this time of year.

Have a safe and wonderful break — and we’ll see you in 2016!

 

Creating a Roadmap for our Future

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One of the strengths behind every successful organization is the ability to plan for the future.  This can be challenging (since the perfect “crystal ball” has yet to be perfected), but it can also be quite rewarding.

The Eudora Board of Education assembled a group of stakeholders last week to help create the next strategic plan for the school district.  The group was mad up of a cross-section of employees and district parents,  as well as community members who don’t currently have kids in school. That day, dozen of volunteers took time to reflect on the old plan while looking to the future.

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The work we did last week further built upon a foundation first laid out by the board in 2009.  That foundation was a set of core values —  collaboration, class size, personalized education and early childhood programs — that board members believed were key to define what we do as a district.

These core values then inspired the district’s first strategic plan, adopted in January 2010. Nearly six years later, the board is now working on the 2015-2017 plan with five target areas: organizational strength, academic excellence, whole child education, technology and community partnerships.  At our meeting last week, our stakeholders worked together to determine action items that should be considered under each target area.StrategicPlan-GroupRot

It was a great day, filled with new ideas and excellent conversations about our future as a district, among a group of supportive, dedicated and thoughtful people. Just one more impressive example of the incredible support Eudora Schools gets from our community.

 

 

Small Town Americana

 

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Nothing speaks to small town Americana quite like a homecoming parade and pep rally.  Our backdrop was a picture perfect fall evening in CPA Park.  Friends, family, and neighbors joined together for a pep rally in downtown Eudora.

 

Where else can you find that the world seems to stop for a moment, (not to mention traffic through downtown?) It was an impressive display of students (some younger and some older), floats, and the Cardinal Regiment Marching Band all driven to support their teammates and classmates.

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Our teams were out in full force.  Each with an opportunity to celebrate their accomplishments to date with the promise of future victories against area foes.

 

In the end, we found ourselves bound arm in arm singing our school alma mater and school fight song.  Small town pride.  A slice of small town Americana.  

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Eudora Schools Foundation and the Prize Patrol

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Complete with balloons, cupcakes and the signature signage, the Eudora Schools Foundation’s Prize Patrol made their way around the district today.  There were looks of surprise not only on the faces of the students, but those faculty who had been selected to receive one of the Foundation’s Teacher Excellence Grants that are awarded annually.  The culminating activity today demonstrates the important marriage that our community, our schools and our foundation have.   IMG_1828

We all want our students and our teachers to have what they need for learning.  People and partners in our community have stepped up in many ways since the Foundation was formed in 2006 — and since the Foundation began awarding Teacher Excellence grants in 2009, our teachers have been awarded more than $20,000 for resources, devices and equipment that helps make this possible.  

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This tremendous accomplishment would not be possible were it not for two key things: First, the loyal support of the Eudora community, a community that truly places a premium on the education that their children receive — a community that understands that their children’s education forms an important part of the foundation of the citizens that they are to become.  The second key element is the dedication and support of the members of the Foundation board.  They are your neighbors, your coworkers and your community businesses.  The board is a group of community members who seek to go above and beyond to support the important work that takes place in our schools every day.  IMG_1846

The prize patrol made visits to every school in the district today.  They awarded over $6,000 in teacher excellence grants to teachers and students this morning.  This is a significant investment back into our schools, through projects dreamed up and brought to life by some of the best teachers you’ll find anywhere.  An investment worthy of recognition.  Thank you Eudora Schools Foundation!

Thank You For Making A Difference

I feel blessed to live in a community that understands the value of the education our children receive.  Apart from their parents, the single greatest constant in many of our students’ lives is a teacher.  Their teacher is a face that greets them in the morning, ears that listen to their stories, and inspiration that opens the door to the adventures of life. Their teacher is who sends them home at the end of the day exhausted, yet stronger in mind and body.

We have a staff team that meets our children wherever they are and strives to provide them with opportunities and experiences that they might not normally have.  They build relationships with students that will weather the tests of time and tribulation.   They work for so much more than just teaching standards, but rather in pursuit of the undeniable satisfaction and joy of seeing the “light” of learning, exploration, and growth.  Our teachers understand the exacting standards that life will place on our students, and they cherish the role they play in preparing students to embrace what life has in store for them.

We have a teaching staff that understands the meaning of the terms sacrifice, dedication, and relationships. And I see Eudora teachers all throughout this quote from philosopher R. Buckminster Fuller:

“Never forget that you are one of a kind.  Never forget that if there weren’t any need for you in all your uniqueness to be on this earth, you wouldn’t be here in the first place.  And never forget, no matter how overwhelming life’s challenges and problems seem to be, that one person can make a difference in the world. In fact, it is always because of one person that all the changes that matter in the world come about.  So be that one person!”

 

And on National Teacher Appreciation Day, I want to thank our teachers for making a difference in the lives of our students.  Thank you for being that “one person” in the lives of so many.

 

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Walking the Path to Cuts

I’ve heard it said that the only way to digest a dinosaur is by eating it one bite at a time.  Trying to wrap your mind around the topic of school finance in Kansas right now is very much the same way.  The goal of this post is to provide some framework to help you understand why our school district in Eudora is talking about budget cuts and increased fees, and the reason for the special board meeting scheduled for this Wednesday evening.

In March, Governor Brownback signed a bill passed by the Kansas Legislature that replaces the school finance formula with a “block grant” system of funding for the next two years. (This was done with Senate Bill 7.)  The previous formula distributed money to school districts based on the number students in our schools on September 20th each year.  Let me point out that this formula has been litigated just twice since it was passed into law in 1992.  In both instances, it was not the formula that was called into question, but rather the legislature’s unwillingness to fund the formula as the law is written.

I want to begin this discussion of our district’s situation with my three biggest concerns about the block grant system and its effect on Eudora Schools:

  • First, frozen funding, regardless of enrollment.  Under the old formula, Eudora and all Kansas districts would receive more funding if district enrollment goes up, and less funding if enrollment goes down. Under the block grant, the amount of money is “frozen” for two years.  In a district like ours, where enrollment continues to slowly increase every year, we will have to spread a set number of  dollars out over a larger number of students.  If the old formula were still in place, our district could have realized as much as $100,000 in new money next year, simply based on projected increases in enrollment.
  • Next, I’m concerned with a decrease in equalization on state aid. State aid is based on the property wealth of a school district, divided by the number of students enrolled in the district.  Because our district’s assessed valuation per pupil is among the lowest in the state, we receive a substantial amount of state aid for our Capital Outlay and Local Option Budget (LOB).  In Eudora, this decrease in equalization results in a net loss of $134,000 in operational funds for next year.  Given that the block grant system is written to last for two years, we will also lose $134,000 in operational funds the following  year.
  • My third concern is that the block grant bill was written as a policy bill, not appropriations. This means the legislature must find the money to fund this each year.  And as of today, the Legislature has not appropriated any dollars to pay for the new block grant formula. Economists and financial experts across the state agree that the Legislature must increase state revenue in order to have the resources to fund the block grant.  A lack of adequate revenue will almost assuredly result in additional cuts to K-12 education over the next month or two, as the state cannot carry a negative cash balance.

When you consider these three concerns, it becomes clear that we in Eudora must plan for substantial measures to our district operating budget for the 2015-2016 school year.

Budget cuts and increased fees are painful, and they are the direct result of the failure of the Kansas Legislature to uphold its Constitutional duty to adequately fund public schools.

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$1 million in new money?

There is a lot of information being passed around that shows the Eudora School District receiving over $1 million in new money over the life of the block grant.  It would be a tremendous investment, if it were true.

The block grant system passed in March includes KPERS funding in its calculations.  The Kansas Public Employees Retirement System is a statewide defined benefit system for state and local public employees.  Every district employee has KPERS contributions deducted from their monthly paychecks, and the state has responsibility to fund the employer portion.  Together, that money is distributed to employees after retirement.  Right now, the state of Kansas sends us the employer portion of KPERS payments ($891,000 this year), and we are required to send that money right back to Topeka for payment to retirees.  Each school district has to count that money as part of their state aid, yet it is money that we neither control nor spend.

Property tax relief is another factor here. Last year when you received your property tax statement from Douglas County, it included a marked decrease in the school district’s overall mill rate.  The local option budget mill rate was decreased by the board’s action by 11.830 mills last summer.  This substantial decrease was the result of legislation passed last spring when the Kansas Legislature approved an increase in state aid for the LOB and Capital Outlay funds.  For a large number of districts (including Eudora), the appropriation of state aid to school districts was passed on to patrons as property tax relief.   We could not spend the money, since we were already at our statutory limit of 30%, so the funds were passed on to our patrons and businesses in the form of lower property tax.

When you add up the KPERS payments — funds that we are unable to spend on operational expenses — and the tax relief that resulted from a lowered district mill rate in August 2014, you’ll see how some people might argue that districts are receiving more money than they have in the past. But if you take a moment to understand what those dollars represent, you’ll quickly determine that they do nothing to offset the significant total of operational funds we’re losing.

In this shell game, Eudora’s students, employees, and schools lose. Big time.

And our costs keep rising…

Keyboard arrowsIf you manage a household budget, or work in a business environment, you know as well as I do: The cost of doing business goes up a little every year.  Depending on the item, it may go up a lot.

Schools are no different.  When the price of a gallon of milk goes up at the grocery store, we see the same increase for our food service program.  Our district has benefited — as we all have — from the substantial decrease in motor fuel costs this year.  (If only gas prices would stay that low!)  In addition to projecting increases in fuel costs, we have been told to expect an increase of 5% in our electrical and natural gas expenses.

The school district will see an increase in expenses next year, simply by opening our doors.  One of the most significant increases in operations will come in the form of special education expenses.  We know that some of our students require more support than other students, but the funding that we receive for special education programs does not cover the costs of the supports these children truly need.  We are partners with the Baldwin and Wellsville school districts to form the East Central Kansas Special Education Cooperative in Education.  Participating in this co-op helps spread the costs of services for our students to, in turn, help keep all three partners’ costs down.  However, we are increasing our financial investment in the special education co-op annually in order to provide those services, despite little to no increase in special education funding from the state.

When we consider increasing costs of running a school district, we must include the rising costs of insurance, one of those “necessary evils.”  While most people don’t don’t necessarily like to pay it, we know that when the time comes that we really need it, we want it to be there for us.  Every year the costs associated with insurance continue to rise.  We have been told by our provider that we should plan on an increase, and the current industry standard increase is somewhere between 8-10%.  This applies to our health insurance, as well as our property insurance.

The cold, hard truth 

Flat funding with growing enrollment, together with increased operational expenses — have placed us in a position where we must consider a combination of district budget cuts and student fee increases.  Flat funding is a product of the Kansas Legislature and our Governor.

Changes in tax policy will be needed in order to prevent the state from falling into a deeper deficit.  But until the leaders in Topeka pursue this course of action, the budget crisis created from reckless tax cuts in 2012 will continue to be balanced on the backs of Kansas students, families, schools and communities.

YOU can make a difference

Contact your elected officials — as often as you are able — and tell them that the state must find ways to increase revenue. Our students, schools,and community will continue to suffer until funding is restored.

 

Defining College and Career Readiness

You just couldn’t ask for a better day to be outside.  To top it all off, we had a chance today to spend some time at the Eudora-De Soto Technical Education Center for our first annual car show.  Mother Nature couldn’t have provided a better day to spend enjoy some world-class pulled pork tacos as well as custom cars, tractors and bikes.

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I want to take my hat off to several Eudora High School staff members who really stepped up to make this event possible.  Chris Paxton – auto collision, Andrea Pyle – health care, Chef Jack Low – culinary arts, Mitch Tegtmeier – wood working instructor.  Our students benefit because of the level of commitment that our staff members give every day to our students.

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The best part of the day was really being able to see our students engaged in true college and career readiness today.  We had an awesome demonstration of what is possible when you combine real-world experience with engaged students and dedicated staff.

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Kudos also goes out to members of our community and their support for vocational programs.  I am truly amazed at the number of truly quality programs that our students are able to participate in.  Students are able to experience professions that we simply did not have exposure to when I was in school.  (My cooking skills could have certainly used a culinary class!)

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Our students overhauled the body of the pickup shown above.  The truck along with other items were auctioned off today.  All of the proceeds from the effort today go back into programs benefiting our students.  I am proud to be part of an organization that truly defines college and career readiness.

Answering the Call

We have all been called upon at various times in our lives to make a difference.  Whether it is in your school, your church or your community, we all have those times when we hear the call.  The question before us is how do we respond?  Will we choose to turn and walk away?  Will we choose to rise to the occasion, regardless of the potential consequences?

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Public education in Kansas is calling on all of us today.  We are seeing a careful and calculated attack on the institution that forms the cornerstone of our society.  Funding, taxes, control of the process have all become the the focal point of a group set on taking education back.

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Ben Franklin once said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”   The system of public education in Kansas makes all other professions possible.  It is a system designed to improve lives and communities, regardless of your zip code.  Families in Eudora, like all communities across the state, understand the value of an education and the lifelong opportunities that an education can provide.  Our families also understand that none of our children are exactly alike.  Each and every one of them has unique needs and personalities that are just a part of what makes them special.

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I had the opportunity to join today with some very special people who chose to answer the call to support public education in Kansas.  They chose to do so not for money, or credit or popularity.  Rather, they chose to answer the call for one very important reason: the children of Kansas.  Over the past few years, they’ve shown many ways of answering the call. They have a vibrant advocacy community online and have spoken to groups across the state, making sure Kansans know what’s really at stake — and what some powerful people in Topeka are really doing to our schools.

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And for the third year in a row, they’re taking nearly four days to walk from Johnson County to Topeka. As Game On leaders have said before, “We would walk to the ends of the earth for our children. Topeka isn’t that far.”

Regardless of where you reside in Kansas — the “Oasis of the Plains” in Colby, or Wichita, Kansas City or Eudora — our children are our most precious resource and worthy of our investment.  It has been said that “Education is a passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”

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Thank you to these dedicated parents and volunteers — and all of those who answered the call this morning to support our students.

Game on!