by Mary Rupert
There was no disagreement Wednesday evening among the seven Kansas City, Kan., school board candidates on the school block grant bill passed within this past week by the Kansas Legislature. The candidates roundly criticized it.
The block grant is designed to give school districts the same amount of money as they receive now for the next two years. The bill passed the House and Senate and went to the governor for a signature.
The seven KCK school board candidates made their remarks at an election forum at Kansas City Kansas Community College, sponsored by Business West, Downtown Shareholders, Historic Northeast Midtown Association, Armourdale Renewal Association, and the community college. About 100 persons attended. Asking questions of the school board candidates was Linda Pendleton, former KCK school board member who is the Armourdale Renewal Association executive director.
“The problem is, the Kansas City, Kan., district is a growing district,” said George Breidenthal, a school board incumbent. The board members fear that if their district adds students, which requires more teachers and other funding, it will not receive enough money for the additional students.
Some expect the new block grant funding bill to be challenged in court if it becomes law. On Tuesday, March 17, the Kansas attorney general filed an appeal to the a judicial panel’s finding that school funding in Kansas is inadequate in the Gannon case.
Breidenthal said the last he heard, the KCK district could lose up to $9 million under the new legislation. Right now the board is trying to figure out the school district’s budget, and has no idea of what to expect. The KCK district may get the same amount of funding that it received in 2003, he said. It was like trying to live on the same amount of funds that you had in 2003, he added.
Janey Humphries, a candidate for the school board, said the district is now expected to do more with less. Block grants will hurt the district because it is a growing district, she said. The district receives more funding for low-income, non-English speaking students, but that may change under the new legislation. There are about 9,000 non-English speaking students in the district, who are expected to perform well on tests in only one year, she added.
“What you’re seeing at the Capitol is definitely an attack on public education,” said Irene Caudillo, a school board candidate. The block grant was not good for the district, and legislators are trying to balance the budget on the backs of the children, she said.
“What we need to do is to make sure we continue to advocate,” she said. “We need to make sure that this does not happen.”
Gloria Willis, a member of the school board for 20 years, said the block grant reminds her of being put in a box. The box closes the district in, she said.
“I’m an advocate of public education,” she said. “We need to do things that will benefit the children in Kansas City, Kan.”
Brenda Jones, incumbent board member, pointed out that costs have gone up over the years as enrollment increases. The consumer price index was up 22.9 percent, enrollment increased 11.4 percent, the at-risk count is 23.2 percent and the bilingual number is 62.7 percent, she said.
“Our at-risk kids will be at risk even more,” Jones said. “They will be forgotten.”
Rep. Val Winn, D-34th Dist., a KCKCC professor who is running for the school board and plans to also serve at the same time in the Legislature, said the amount of funding to KCK will be reduced in the block grant. The funding amount on paper looks like more money, but it includes pension funding, not money that can be used in the classroom, she said.
“The block grant was a coup,” she said, and it will last as long as those who passed it are in power. There is still a last bastion of protecting the constitutionality of adequacy of funding, she added.
The Wyandotte County legislators who are Democrats voted against the block grant bill.
Maria Cecilia Ysaac, also a candidate for the school board, said, “It is sad and it makes my stomach turn that the legislators that said they were going to protect our education and that wanted the best for Kansas are doing this to our students, the most vulnerable, the ones that can’t defend ourselves. We are here to defend them. This school board, I believe, has an obligation to fight back any way it can, by encouraging our children to be civically active, to speak out, to march, to make phone calls, and to demand that their representatives represent their interests.
“Shame on them, but shame on us if we don’t do something about this and vote these people out,” Ysaac said.
Janet Waugh, State Board of Education member, 1st District, who attended the meeting, said afterward that she had “tweeted” this message right after the vote: “Today I say shame on you to the House members who voted yes” on the block grant bill.
Waugh said that the school districts in Wyandotte County, and most school districts in the state, were not in favor of the block funding bill. It did have some support from the Blue Valley and Shawnee Mission school districts in Johnson County, she added. One elementary school to the north of Easton may have to close because of the funding.
The candidate forum, with more comments from the KCK school board candidates and other candidates for office, will be shown on the KCKCC cable television channel. The election is April 7.
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