Archive for Thursday, December 20, 2001

Cuts would create ‘bare bones’ schools

December 20, 2001

If budget cuts outlined by Gov. Bill Graves last Friday become reality, Eudora students could face larger class sizes, and school district employees wouldn't see salary increases.

Forced by state law to present the Kansas Legislature with a balanced budget, Graves presented a proposal that would cut state spending $426 million in fiscal year 2003. The cuts, which Graves made clear he didn't endorse, would slash $158 per student in state funding to school districts and make reductions to social programs, correctional facilities, nursing homes and the transportation department.

Eudora Superintendent Marty Kobza said the possible cuts would set education back in the district.

"It causes us to go to the bare bones," he said.

With a maxed-out local option budget the district would be forced to make changes. Even if school enrollment continues to increase, a phenomenon which Kobza had said was the district's "saving grace," Eudora couldn't hire any new teachers, which would increase class sizes to 25 in elementary grades. The district might also have to cut back on activities and technology, as well as increases in salary for teachers, classified staff and administrators.

"We wouldn't be able to offer our teachers the kind of salaries we'd like to, and we would not be able to make some of the improvements we're looking into," he said.

Although Eudora has gotten extra help from the state because it's considered a poor district largely because the city has little industry compared to housing, budget cuts would mean that help would be cut back as well.

"We can't magically produce $249,000," Kobza said. "(Cuts) would really cause us to take a step backward in what we're trying to do with our school."

At the Dec. 13 Eudora Board of Education meeting, Kobza showed a television news clip demonstrating how increases in school funding weren't keeping up with inflation, energy costs and other expenditures.

Part of the solution, he said, meant seeking out pro-education legislators.

"It's time to change who we're talking to," he said.

Critics say legislators look good by making budget cuts while school districts raise the local option budget.

"My gripe is that people never get to vote on it," said board member Carlie Abel. "It's a shift of burden. It just makes (legislators) look good."

With proposed cuts, Kobza said it's time for parents, not just educators, to voice their concerns to Kansas legislators.

"We superintendents and administrators and the teachers' union are often in contact with them, but they believe it's only the people from the school system complaining, and there isn't any real merit to it."

The state is also studying the cost of a suitable education, and Kobza thinks the study will benefit districts. "The cost study is going to give us a consistent vocabulary with legislators," he said. "It's not something that's easily understood unless you're someone that's in the loop."

He said the study would help define the ways districts are spending money. For instance, the post-audit report calls capital expenditures "non-instructional" expenditures, but Kobza said building or school repairs are vital to instruction. Although the amount of money spent in one year may look large, he said districts squirrel away the money for years.

Kobza said he thought the cost study would help the state see what districts are lacking rather than pointing out what some may view as extravagant in wealthier districts.

"What was suitable 10 years ago may not be suitable now," he said.

School security is now a huge issue and common at many schools, but at one time it would probably have been seen as unnecessary.

What the cost study and cuts will show, Kobza said, is that if funds aren't there, districts will have to make the decision of what to cut.

"Is it suitable to have 30 second-graders in one classroom?" he said. "Suitable in my definition would mean a class size that's suitable to have a real impact on learning."

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