As I do every day, when my kid comes home from school, I check for notes from the teacher and the school — “your child’s lunchroom account is almost empty” or “remember: tomorrow is ‘wear a silly hat day’ at school”. Earlier this week, though, the message was much different.

Just last week, we learned that state revenue has continued to fall and that additional cuts would be made to public school funding. . . .

During the 2009-10 school year, the district cost contained $9.1 million by deferring facility maintenance, making reductions in operating budgets district-wide, lowering capital costs, generating additional increases in energy savings and reducing staff mainly through attrition. For 2010-11, the district will be reducing at least $16 million (with even more state funding cuts likely), and plans call for a continuation of this year’s cost containment efforts, a district-wide salary freeze, a transition in the high-school teaching schedule and additional staff reductions.

There’s more like this at the district’s website (though it is a bit older than yesterday’s note):

The cuts in state funds are based on factors outside of the local districts’ and the state’s control. With more jobless Missourians, fewer are able to pay state income taxes, resulting in a decline of 12.7 percent in state revenue when comparing the first two months of 2010 with the same two months in 2009.

“Although we have been planning for additional losses in state aid, the amount of lost revenue is more dramatic than expected,” said Dr. David McGehee, R-7 superintendent. “This is distressing news that will force us to make tough decisions and to examine reductions in areas we have not wanted to consider in the past.”

The picture is the same in district after district around here, on both sides of the Missouri-Kansas state line, and it makes no difference if you are looking at rural, suburban, or urban districts. As David Reber noted earlier in the week,

The last week of April is marked by hundreds of teacher layoffs as districts work meet statutory deadlines for notifications of non-renewal. State statute had required notification of non-renewal of contracts for teachers by May 1st. This year the legislature extended that date to the third Friday in May, or May 21st this year. However, many teacher contracts still specify a May 1st deadline. The high number of job cuts are occurring as districts must balance budgets with up to $25 million fewer dollars.

Among those districts reducing teaching staff are Lawrence (USD 497), whose board of education voted Monday to non-renew 44 teachers. Wichita (USD 259), also in a Monday night vote, cut 117 positions including all 14 driver education teachers and 44 curriculum and support positions. Shawnee Mission (USD 512) eliminated 37 teaching positions, and Topeka (USD 501) meets today with reduction in force on the agenda.

Yes, it’s teacher layoff season once again, but if you want an indication as to how bad it is this year (compared with last year), the GOP members of the Kansas senate are speaking — and voting — in favor of raising taxes.

“The bottom line is we have to balance the budget,” said Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton. “We’ve cut and cut and cut in the last year and a half.”

While raising taxes is painful, Morris said, many taxpayers understand the push for more taxes. Still, Senate Ways and Means Chairman Sen. Jay Emler said he expected to hear concerns about the bill over the weekend.

That’s exactly what local superintendents are hoping will happen. One KS suburban district put their proposed district budget cuts [pdf] and their position on more state funding reductions [pdf] online, for parents to view and use when contacting their legislators. As another local district debated possible cuts, their superintendent spoke to this very issue:

“Because the state legislators are starting to hear some of what the communities are saying, they’re starting to itch a little bit. They itched a little bit today, saying ‘Well maybe we won’t cut quite so much,’” he said, noting that cuts have been made to the athletics department to the tune of eight assistant coaches. “There are cuts that have to be made. If it’s not an accompanist, it’s another teacher. If it’s not another teacher, it’s a media center person. If it’s not a media center person, it’s another administrator. If not that, it’s another coach.”

Van Maren asked those in the audience to continue writing letters and pushing legislators for more funding for public education. If more funding doesn’t become available, he said, the downward spiral already faced by schools across the state would only get worse.

“We don’t want to make these cuts, we want your passion to keep the accompanist, to keep the media center person, to keep the teachers, to have the programs that do help all the kids,” Van Maren said. “If they hear you and they hear you again … it’s going to have an impact.”

If the GOP in the Kansas Senate is voting for tax increases instead of strictly looking at more budget cuts, I’d say that hearing from the folks back home is having an impact.

Pick a school district anywhere in the country, and you’ll probably find the same story wherever you look. The folks on Wall Street and DC can proclaim the end of the recession, but it’s hard to square their joy with the grief of schools facing yet more deferred maintenance, yet more cuts in programs, and yet more teacher and support staff layoffs.

Have you contacted your state legislator today?

(photo h/t Finsec)



I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

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