"I don't understand why school administrators are dismissing teachers when schools have such big reserves," state the adherents of the no-more-taxes pro-business lobby. The first part of their statement is correct: They don't understand.
Schools don't have fat reserves. The 293 Kansas superintendents are not dismissing teachers just to get public sympathy for raising taxes. Most school budgets are drained, and with more than 80 percent tied up in personnel, dismissing school employees is the only recourse.
Critics decry that K-12 education takes up more than half of the state budget. That is correct. Public education is every state's biggest responsibility and every state's single biggest expense. From the beginning of statehood, Kansans invested in their schools and that quality echoes today.
Kansas schools operate on revenue from the state general fund and local property taxes. Along with federal title funding, there can be up to two dozen additional "silos" of money, each with its own special restrictions.
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A few schools were able to save over the years and set aside some discretionary funds for a "rainy day." Much of that funding has now been spent to meet commitments this past year, when state cuts were made after contracts were awarded. However, some schools have no reserve funds to fall back on at all.
Another misleading figure is the comparison of school funding before and after the Kansas Supreme Court directed an increase. Kansas was failing to support K-12 education. Part of the increase went to teacher salaries and part to improve school programs. Today, Kansas teachers remain paid at a level that is 38th in the nation, the same as before the raises. Without the increase, Kansas would have fallen far behind.
Is Kansas top-heavy with school administrators and nonteachers? Some states have legislated caps on the percentage of noninstructional staff. It has not improved their schools. Kansas ranks in the same range of instructional staffing as most other states.
If you want to eliminate administrative positions, you must eliminate their duties. A large district needs a competent manager of finances and a skilled overseer of school bus transportation — assistant superintendents with crucial duties. If you want to eliminate the paraprofessionals who serve special needs students, you can't just dismiss them — you will have to change federal laws that mandate those services. I would love to shut down the external assessments and return testing to the teachers' hands, eliminating assessment positions in larger districts. But we can't do that without changing state and federal laws.
Critics who claim schools should divert restricted funds to cover the shortfall claim to represent the Kansas business community. However, if Kansas schools were permitted by legislative action to raid those funds, the consequences would be disastrous. In a few years, with public schools essentially bankrupt, legitimate Kansas businessmen would be the first to point out such gross mismanagement.