Tuesday, February 3, 2015

COLUMN: Don't fall for the Grand Piano Okie Doke

By NICK SLOAN, nick@kansascitykansan.com

KANSAS CITY, KAN. ----- After years and years of debate, we have apparently found the solution to our school funding problem in the Sunflower State.

A $47,000 piano purchased for Sumner Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Recently approved by the Kansas City, Kan., Board of Education, the piano and its costs are drawing media coverage all over the State of Kansas.

This purchase was made at a time when school funding is the number one issue in the state. Critics are quickly circling the wagon and going after the school district for approving this.

Now, let me say that I personally do not agree with spending $47,000 for a piano. I think there are more cost-effective solutions out there. A simple search online would probably lead you to some of those solutions.

That said, I am not going to fall for the "okie doke" here. I am sorry.

A piano is the least of our worries when it comes to school funding. It will be used for years at Sumner Academy. A new piano would not be purchased every year for the school.

What is the big problem with school funding and how school districts spend money? The problem is the outrageous number of school administrators and non-teaching personnel employed in public schools and at the district level all across the state.

According to a 2013 study from the Friedman Foundation, there was a 43 percent increase in administrators and non-teaching staff in Kansas from 1992 to 2009 --- even though the number of students increased by just five percent in the same time frame.

That same study estimates the state could have saved over $340 million in that time frame had districts hired administrators and non-teaching staff at the same rate the number of students increased. Annually, that's about $20 million districts around Kansas could have saved. That's funding that could have been used to hire more teachers or fund technology that benefits the students and staff. Key words: Could have.

To use the math skills I learned in school, that $340 million is 7,234 times the amount that piano cost.

For those who live in large cities like KCK, Wichita, Topeka or those in Johnson County, let me issue you a challenge.

Go to your school district's Website and find the number of administrators each school has or the assistant superintendent type jobs each district has. The salaries for most of those jobs are what two to three average teachers in Kansas make combined. That is a lot of money that never sees the classroom.

Going after a $47,000 piano is the easiest thing to do.

But if you want to truly solve the school finance problem, school finance reform advocates need to zoom in on the school and district administrators. That's where your millions of dollars can be saved and how you can hire more teachers and get more of your money into the classroom.

This goes double for the members of the Kansas Legislature commenting on this piano in stories.

The Kansas Legislature could help solve this issue, but politicians rarely are courageous enough to go after long-term solutions. There could be a cap placed on the amount of administrators hired. New Jersey, for example, passed a bill a few years back that placed a cap on the salary a superintendent could earn.

There are better ways to fund musical education than purchasing a $47,000 piano, but don't get fooled.

There are bigger fish to fry when it comes to school funding - and there is more money to be saved.

Instead of going after something that will actually be used in a classroom environment, go after the millions of dollars that fail to make an impact on a student's education.


Nick Sloan is the publisher of The Kansas City Kansan. He can be reached at nick@kansascitykansan.com. His new eBook on why the Republican Party should support marijuana legalization can be purchased here.