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Slashed Budgets and Bleeding Schools
by Jack Wellman
2010-02-03 09:37:57
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Not since the Great Depression have so many school districts in the state of Kansas been in financial jeopardy, almost to the point of having to close their doors permanently. In my own local school district in Belle Plaine, Kansas, the school district (USD 357) has been compelled to make dramatic and painful cuts. Part of the problem for our local school district, with a population of around 1,780, is the number of businesses and residential properties in Sumner County with delinquent taxes due to the economic recession.

This isn’t only a problem for Sumner County schools, but has impacted the entire state of Kansas. Much of the tax base is gone as a result of one out of every ten homes and businesses being unable to pay their taxes. This funding source is the chief financial support that is used to fund these schools. The rate of foreclosures and tax delinquencies is the highest it has been since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Belle Plaine public schools have had to cut 15% out of their operating budget and they are not done yet.

The bottom line for students is that all their extracurricular activities have ended. This includes the after school programs, Summer School, all field trips, any teacher trainings, and teacher and staff raises. Cuts already implemented or projected for January, 2010 in our local Belle Plaine public school includes $161,059 for Special Education, $409,916 for the General Fund, $193,740 (Governor-mandated) for the At-Risk program. [1.] Total school district cuts for Belle Plaines school districtcould be, at minimum, $893,587. [1.] This makes it impossible to comply with the federally mandated “No Child Left Behind” act passed by Congress during the Bush Administration.

The district has not only eliminated nearly every school aide position, but some tenured teachers may have to be either moved or let go altogether. This means that class sizes will increase, which means the teacher workload will increase. My wife, a 4th grade teacher, already spends about two to four hours each night trying to grade papers, updating reading scores and grades, and preparing lesson plans for her fourth grade class. She has no Para, no parent volunteers and now, no teacher’s aides.

Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson announced $259 million worth of spending cuts Monday, reducing funds for education to shore up the troubled state budget. The state is facing a total budget shortfall that could approach $1 billion by June, 2010. [2.] This means that Kansas public schools would lose, at minimum, $100 million from their operating budgets. Like almost every state in the country, Kansas is facing huge budget deficits, presently at $186 million and growing exponentially.

Kansas schools are busy cutting budgets that are drastically altering their educational structure and educational opportunities for students. Some schools are shortening their school years; some are cutting the school week from Monday through Thursday, while many others are being forced to consolidate. Since Kansas schools do not all get the same number of dollars per students, some smaller school districts are suffering the most and are joining together to take their case to the Kansas Supreme Court this year.

Schools districts are continuing to be forced into districts that are growing larger in order to continue to keep their doors open. The state cannot support the present number of 293 school districts, particularly since some have enrolment as small as 39 students.

My wife has taught at Belle Plaine Elementary (USD 357) for over 34 years and Belle Plaine is targeted for consolidation into the Caldwell, Udall and South Haven school districts. The problem is that Udall is in the Northwestern part of the next county, which is Cowley County, while South Haven is in the extreme Southwestern corner of Sumner County. The two farthest schools are more than 45 miles apart, with the two furthest South (Caldwell and South Haven), near the Oklahoma border. [3.] Logistical problems include state laws which do not allowing children to ride on a school bus for more than 45 minutes. Many Kansas towns are already rallying to preserve their local schools and holding town hall meetings to lodge complaints to their local representatives.

The small town Kansas school districts which have thrived for over 140 years are in danger of extinction. My own Belle Plaine, Kansas school district, the one in which I live and my wife teaches, and my children and grandchildren have attended, may soon disappear forever. And more are soon to follow due to the worsening state budget deficits, shrinking tax bases and district consolidations. And gone with this will be the local school districts own identity, pride and sense of community; apparently never to return again.

1. http://www.usd357.k12.ks.us/Funding.pdf
2. http://governor.ks.gov/media-room/45/470-11232009-parkinson-cuts-spending-balances-budget
3. http://www.kansas.com/news/state/story/1037079.html

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