Schools key in debate
As could be expected, a candidate forum Tuesday at the De Soto USD 232 central office moderated by Superintendent Sharon Zoellner had a heavy education slant.
The forum drew candidates from the 38th District, which includes De Soto and Eudora, the 39th District of western Shawnee and Bonner Springs, and the Democratic challenger for the 3rd District Kansas State Board of Education.
Eudora Republican Anthony Brown, the incumbent in the 38th District race, defended his record on education despite voting against a $466 million school-funding package the Legislature approved in May. The measure stretched the added money over three years with a 2006-2007 increase of $194.5 million.
Brown said he and all others in the Johnson County delegation in the House voted against the funding bill because it wasn't a good deal for their constituents.
"De Soto and Eudora had two of the three smallest increases in the state," he said. "I supported an earlier $175 million plan that would have been far better for De Soto and Eudora that failed by one vote."
The Legislature passed a good-faith resolution to add $273 million in school funding in the next two sessions, but Brown said he wouldn't pledge to vote for those increases. Any tweaking to such areas as funding for at-risk or English as a Second Language students would greatly change the funding formula to something he might not be able to support, Brown said.
Brown added he hadn't given up on getting a better deal for his constituents, saying voters should remember the numbers 31 (the percentage of state revenue Johnson County provides the state), 18 (the percent of state students who live in Johnson County) and eight (the percentage of the state's overall education funding that was shared with Johnson County schools).
His opponent, Lenexa Democrat Diane Bryant said she would support the funding proposed for the next two years.
"I think the Legislature made that commitment to the Court," she said. "I understand Johnson County gave a lot to the state.
"I will work hard to make sure De Soto schools are well-funded."
Education was a key component to economic development, and quality schools are one of the first things businesses look for when considering relocation, Bryant said.
"I grew up in Little Rock, Ark," she said. "They have very low taxes in Arkansas. But economic development isn't occurring because of the quality of the schools."
Bryant said she supported the authority of local school boards and opposed recent proposals that would mandate curriculum changes from the state level or forced districts to adopt parental consent opt-in sex education class enrollment policies.
Asked if she would support so-called taxpayers bill of rights measures, which limit annual increases in government spending or tax increases without the support of a super-majority in the Legislature or voter approval, Bryant said such measures have proved counterproductive.
"It didn't work out in Colorado, or at least they had to amend their law," she said. "They tried it in Missouri. Missouri roads aren't very good. Missouri schools aren't very good."
Brown said as a rule he didn't favor checks on flexibility, which is why he refused to sign a pledge not to increase taxes, but he said he did favor the goal.
"I'm in favor of limiting government," he said. "I'm in favor of limiting the access of government in our lives."
Despite the refusal to sign the no-new tax pledge, he did and would fight constant lobbying efforts in Topeka to raise taxes, Brown said.