Thank you to all of you who have called and written this last week. I take my responsibility to represent you seriously. I hear your concerns.
This has been an eventful year for education. We had very difficult budget season and worrying about a possible state wide school closure. After seven years, the Kansas Supreme Court is finally ready to rule on the Gannon Case. Money for equity, even though most was for property tax relief is in our school budget. It has provided a little relief for our students and staff, but obviously is not enough to relieve the pressure and anger.
Working the contract today pointed out what I know from experience. Teachers do everything possible to see students succeed. I know you spend extra hours in your building and probably spent your personal time this weekend preparing for the week. I recognized the loaded bags on your shoulders this morning. You give up time with your families. I know paperwork and assessments take up more valuable time. I know you have little free time even in the summer. We lived it at my house too. I’ve seen it first-hand.
We know you work too many hours. When we cut administration or support services, whether in the SSC, your building or downtown, your workload increases because the work, and federal and state reporting requirements do not go away. We do not have enough staff to help with your workload. Audits from Wichita’s business community show that administrative functions, like HR and Purchasing, are lean.
Let’s remember how we got here. In the last eight years, we have experienced 12.17% inflation; however, over the same period of time, our budget increased only 1.1% net over the 2008 budget. Our operational funding, that is the money we can use for salary, benefits and operational expenses, has increased four times and decreased four times. The funding increases, in most cases, were often generated locally through our capital outlay budget and not by the state. The state legislature simply changed the law to allow school districts to use capital outlay for some expenses, thereby freeing resources for operational expenses.
The cumulative funding increases total 13.4%, but the cumulative decrease in funding over the last eight years totals 12.3%. The district has had to balance eight years of increased costs with net 1.1% increase since 2008. The increases in net funding have not kept up with inflation.
During that eight year period of time, the rate of inflation has been 12.17%. Healthcare costs have increased at an even faster rate. Our contracts call for $590 monthly contribution for healthcare. It has actually been costing the school district approximately $850 per month to keep our healthcare sound.
SEIU and UTW understandably value healthcare as part of their overall employment package. We have done everything we can to protect the long-term health of our healthcare plan. That value is why, earlier this year, we all endured the very painful budget process of cutting $20 million to make sure the healthcare trust fund was sound.
Following the $20 million budget cut, the Supreme Court ruled on question of equity in the Gannon Case and Wichita received an additional $10 million in state aid. Approximately $5½ – 6 million in state aid went to property tax relief. Wichita tax payers finally got the relief the state owed them. Many questioned why we returned that money to taxpayers in mil levy relief. For years, Wichitans have been paying a disproportionate share of school funding because of the state’s inadequate support of education. The state mandated it be returned to tax payers and only the remaining $3½ – 4 million could supplement our operational budget.
I worry that soon after the November election, school districts will face budget cuts from the Governor. As you know, the state has not met revenue estimates for quite some time. More cuts would be devastating to students and teachers, and our $10 million in savings, two weeks of cash flow, could not protect the employment SEIU members if used today.
I realize you are underpaid for the work that you do. All staff are grossly underpaid. I know how hard you work and how important your job is to the community and to our children. We hear and acknowledge your frustration and anger. That is why one of the first items in our contract negotiation was the work load committee, which has already begun work. We expect that committee to evaluate items to see which are best practices, what are regulatory requirements and what is unnecessary. It can clarify our priorities.
Certain Kansas legislative leaders have consistently demeaned and marginalized Kansas teachers, undermining our ability to maintain competitive pay and benefits. They question the motives of teachers in public comments. It is insulting and, let there be no doubt, it is meant to intimidate.
Beyond the pay cuts and remarks, certain members of our legislature removed your due-process rights. Our contract keeps that in place because we believe you have a right to due process. Disregard the Legislature’s message. You are professionals and deserve to be treated fairly and with respect.
I am doing all that I can to remedy the situation. I have served for over 15 years as a volunteer for Wichita on this school board, which is almost a full time job in itself.
I do not regret the sacrifices I’ve had to make with my own family. Teachers in this district were the very reason I made a decision to take early retirement and run for another public office. The salary and benefits for that office, coincidentally, will be close to a starting teachers’ salary. I do not regret that either. Our public schools are foundational to the success of our city, our region, and our state. I refuse to see our collective success in Wichita schools further undermined by this Legislature.
Wichitans, for the most part, support their public schools. Despite the naysayers, we have rallied for the needs of our children and the needs of our teachers. Our bond issue campaigns, which began 18 years ago tonight are an example of this. We now have safe rooms and controlled entrance in every school. We have new buildings throughout the city. Those that were not replaced were extensively updated and remodeled. We have up to date technology, air conditioning, science labs, athletic and fine arts facilities because of the investment of our community.
The Board has been at the forefront, pushing for the needs of our students and staff. Whether it is the bond issue for capital funds, lobbying the legislature directly, or supporting the Gannon case, we have had tremendous political opposition. This has been a cost we have been, and continue to be, willing to pay.
The final ruling on the Gannon case and the next legislative session offers an important opportunity to begin to correct this situation. If public schools do not receive more funding, I shutter to think of the consequences. Our public school system will have to drastically change. Fewer buildings, larger class size and a one-size-fits-all approach to education will undoubtedly result. Our students cannot gain skills needed for the 21st century in this way. My promise to you, is that I will always work to make public education a priority again in the state of Kansas.
Until we get to that place, we must face this situation together. As our Superintendent stated last week in response to the state’s suggestion to reallocate money from AP and Gifted classes to our at-risk students, USD 259 does not cannibalize its own. We do not and will not harm one student group for the sake of the other. We must continue to face this hardship as a family. Administrators, teachers, our service union and the Board must fight as one.
In closing, I would like to remind the board, that after the Montoy decision in 2005, we asked Administration to consider how and where we would use additional funds if the court ruled in our favor and the Legislature appropriated the money. That list included increased salaries, smaller class sizes, and funding strategic programs that would raise student achievement for all students. It was a three-year plan, funded for only two. When the funding for the third year did not come through, our plan had to be put on the shelf.
So I would recommend to this board that we discuss what we want to set as our priorities if we receive extra funding, and that we solicit suggestions from staff and community to ensure that we have the best education for our students. Perhaps it is counting our chickens before they are hatched, but it would be a great service to educators and our community to know how additional resources would be spent.
I also request the board receive regular reports from the Workload Committee. I hope we will see what is required by law, what is a best practice, what needs to be dropped and/or changed to be more effective. I encourage you to let us know what specific items need to be discussed by this committee.
We must work together, or the naysayers win. Our students are suffering. Our staff are suffering. If ever there was a time to work together, this is it.