Friday, October 19, 2012

Dems blast website seeking examples of school waste

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

Gov. Sam Brownback’s call for Kansans to tell officials about examples of waste in public schools has drawn a sharp reaction from Democrats.

“We should celebrate our public schools and fully restore the funding cuts they’ve endured since the recession began,” House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said Thursday. “We should not be demonizing them and searching for excuses to cut their funding even more.”

Sherriene Jones-Sontag, a spokeswoman for Brownback, said the governor wasn’t trying to demonize schools but wants the public to help identify ways schools can improve efficiency.

On Wednesday, Brownback announced the establishment of a website where people can anonymously report their experiences with inefficient spending in the educational system to the Governor’s School Efficiency Task Force. The website is https://governor.ks/efficiency.

“Inefficient spending impacts Kansas taxpayers at every level, from the state general fund to local property taxes,” Brownback said. “Moving forward, we owe it to Kansas taxpayers to ensure those resources are used as efficiently as possible.”

But Democrats said the move was another attack by Brownback on public schools.

Earlier, they had been critical of the 10-member School Efficiency Task Force appointed by Brownback because it was dominated by accountants, including Brownback’s budget director Steve Anderson, and had no one who was an educator or worked in a school.

In the same news release announcing the website, Brownback also said he was adding an 11th member to the task force — Iola school superintendent Brian Pekarek.

“Brian is well-known as a superintendent who is open to new ideas,” Brownback said.

Democrats have alleged that the task force is going to be used to provide cover for Brownback to cut state funding to schools. But Brownback has said he will protect school funding.

Davis said, “Instead of hosting an online forum to complain about public schools, why not discuss all the innovative ways our teachers and administrators have done more with less since Gov. Brownback implemented the largest cut to education funding in Kansas history?”

Brownback and the Republican-led Legislature cut schools by $232 per student in 2011, but then added $58 to base state aid per pupil this year.

In the news release, the governor’s office repeated its claim that only 54 percent of total school funding goes into the classroom for instruction, but Democrats and educators have said the governor’s office is not figuring the total correctly.

The task force’s next meeting is Nov. 9. Chairman Ken Willard of Hutchinson urged Kansans to visit the website and share information about school inefficiencies.

“While task force members are researching and analyzing where inefficiencies are occurring in our educational system, we also want to hear directly from Kansans who have their own ideas and suggestions on how to make our schools more efficient,” Willard said.

By late Thursday morning, the website had received 75 suggestions, Jones-Sontag said. She said the suggestions eventually will be compiled for the task force. She said she assumed the compilation would be available to the media and public, too.

Jones-Sontag said Brownback wants to increase student performance on state and national tests, and increase the number of high school graduates who are career- or college-ready.

“The governor wants to make sure our spending reflects our education goals,” she said. “We want to put resources into the classroom, where teachers teach and children learn.”