KCK schools take neutral position on new school finance plan; still support old formula, official says

David Smith, chief of staff of the Kansas City, Kan., Public Schools, said that the school district has taken a neutral position on the new school finance proposal announced today. (Staff photo by Mary Rupert)
David Smith, chief of staff of the Kansas City, Kan., Public Schools, said that the school district has taken a neutral position on the new school finance proposal announced today. (Staff photo by Mary Rupert)

Audience hears KCK schools, UG positions on legislation

by Mary Rupert

The Kansas City, Kan., Public School district has taken a neutral position on a new school finance bill that was proposed today in the Kansas Senate, according to a district official.

The district still supports the old school finance formula that is not being funded in the proposed budget, said David Smith, chief of staff for the school district, at a MainStream Coalition-sponsored forum tonight at the West Wyandotte Library in Kansas City, Kan.

While the proposed school finance formula would mean more money to the Kansas City, Kan., school district, the district took a neutral position because “we believe in the current formula,” Smith said.

“We need a formula that works for everyone,” Smith said. The district would not support a formula that benefits it at the expense of other school districts, he added.

He said the district believes the current school finance formula, which the Legislature is doing away with, is a good one because it connects the cost to serve kids with the funding.

The Legislature went ahead recently with block grant funding for two years while it works on a new school finance formula. The block grant funding bill, pushed through the Legislature in only 10 days, will give the districts essentially the same amount of money that they received last year. That will put the KCK school district in a position to lose $3 million this year, Smith said, because there are 400 new students.

While state legislators have said the block grant funding allows districts to have more flexibility in how they spend the money, Smith said, “Telling us we have flexibility is saying we have the ability to tell which kids we’re going to hurt.” There are many websites which can give you money check advice, that can help you with your personal finances.

The state’s $600 million deficit, according to Mike Taylor, UG lobbyist, is due to the state income tax cuts that eliminated revenue without replacing it in the budget.

“Taxes are not the top thing on the list for businesses coming here,” Taylor said. “It’s schools, it’s roads, it’s quality of life.”

Taylor said taxes were being shifted from income taxes to raising other sorts of taxes, including consumption taxes, sales taxes and property taxes that will hurt the middle class.

The state has taken some funding from the transportation department, for highways and bridges, to pay other expenses, but that is unsustainable, Smith said.

“Duane Goossen, former budget director for the state, talks about the fact that so far the solutions that have been proposed to fill the budget gap are not sustainable,” Smith said. “They are one-time transfers of money that don’t address the long-term issues, which quite honestly, is a revenue issue. They’ve cut taxes to unsustainable levels and until they address that, they are not really addressing the issues, and they’re doing it in the ways that hurt education, schools, local governments.”

Until they deal with the issues, which is revenues and cuts to unsustainable levels, they’re not going to fix this, Smith said.

State Rep. Val Winn, D-34th Dist., who is on the House Education Committee, said after the forum it is likely that the new school finance bill will not come to the House Education Committee, but will probably go through the Appropriations Committee for hearings. Rep. Winn said she currently can’t understand how the new school finance formula would work if only six pilot schools were involved in it, not all school districts.

A big player in the school finance issue is the court, according to Smith, who provided a timeline. Currently, Kansas courts have ruled for the school districts, and the case is being appealed. After the court ruling, the Legislature gave the districts more money last session. Last December, courts made a decision that the Legislature was not providing adequate funding, and that ruling was appealed. Then the governor and Legislature began to change the school finance formula.

Smith said the courts have issued notice that they still have jurisdiction over school finance. Where it will all end, he said he did not know.

Taylor described a series of broken promises from the Legislature as concerns funding for local governments.

Taylor said among the several spending cuts from the Legislature for the local governments have been a $500,000 loss from the elimination of the mortgage registration fee last year; a $10 million loss in revenue a year because of the elimination of the machinery and equipment tax in 2006; and $36 million lost since 2003 because of elimination of the ad valorem tax reduction funds. The last was a program designed to replace revenues that were denied cities in the 1970s, but in 2003, the funding was done away with, Taylor said. He called it a broken contract.

He said a bill by the conservative controlled Legislature to move local elections to the fall was essentially a way to force the currently nonpartisan elections to become more partisan and to be controlled by Republican conservatives. They have already taken over the governor’s seat and Legislature, are trying to take over the judiciary and the local governments are next, he said.

Taylor said if America had an 80 percent to 100 percent voter turnout, it would not have the Congress, state legislature or governor it has today.

Smith also mentioned some bills in the Legislature that were aimed at limiting teachers’ unions, and said that these efforts were not needed, that the districts already have enough tools to deal with any issues with teachers.

The MainStream Coalition forum was live-streamed. The hour-and-a-half forum, with several other issues mentioned, is posted on YouTube and can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TDoA10TbKjE.

Send your news and comments to Wyandotte Daily at news@wyandottepublishing.com.

Mike Taylor, Unified Government lobbyist, talked about broken promises from the Legislature through the years when it comes to funding. (Staff photo by Mary Rupert)
Mike Taylor, Unified Government lobbyist, talked about broken promises from the Legislature through the years when it comes to funding. (Staff photo by Mary Rupert)

Youth futsal courts proposed throughout Wyandotte County

Futsal courts at Wyandotte High School were dedicated July 30, 2013, before the MLS All-Star game in Kansas City, Kan. Tonight, the Unified Government heard a proposal from Sporting Kansas City to build eight more futsal courts in Wyandotte County. (File photo by Mary Rupert)

Sporting Kansas City tonight presented a proposal for futsal courts all over Wyandotte County.

Instead of building three youth soccer fields as called for in an earlier agreement with the Unified Government, the MLS soccer team in Kansas City, Kan., has proposed converting eight existing tennis courts into futsal courts.

Futsal is a form of soccer played on a smaller hard-surfaced court, and is very popular as a youth sport in other countries.

When the project is completed, it would bring the number of futsal courts here to 10, including the two courts at Wyandotte High School that went on display during the MLS All-Star week here last summer.

The proposal from Sporting Kansas City was worked out in negotiations between the soccer team and the Unified Government Parks and Recreation Department, according to information presented at the UG Economic Development Standing Committee meeting tonight.

Greg Cotton, chief of staff for Sporting Kansas City, said this futsal project not only fits in with the Healthy Communities goal, it also gives Sporting and its partners in this project the chance to join together in the project.

The partners in the project, besides Sporting KC, include the U.S. Soccer Federation, U.S. Youth Futsal, Heartland Soccer Association, and Padrino Premier Soccer League.

The partners will come together to offer programs with the futsal courts, including league play, district tournaments and a championship tournament to be held here, he said.

There are Saturday instructional youth clinics planned. Also planned is the U.S. Youth Futsal Youth Academy, an invitation-only group for high-performing youth in the community. There also will be free play time on the courts.

“The goal is to encourage a healthy lifestyle for our youth in safe community parks so that the kids can play after school,” said David Ficklin, vice president of development at Sporting KC. Many children won’t need a ride to the fields complex to play soccer.

Some proposed locations are on the bus line, while others are in the middle of neighborhoods.

“The greatest soccer players grew up playing futsal,” Ficklin said. “In Spain and Brazil, futsal is predominant sport kids play when they are growing up.”

Sporting KC introduced futsal courts to Wyandotte County last July just before the MLS All-Star game in Kansas City, Kan. The new futsal courts at Wyandotte County were an MLS community service project.

“We had no idea the neighborhood would love it so much,” Ficklin said. “We would paint the surface, go home, and the kids would hop over the fence and start playing on it.”

The kids in the neighborhood have really taken good care of the courts, he added.

Kelli Mather, chief financial officer for the Kansas City, Kan., Public Schools, said the Wyandotte High futsal courts are used constantly by the physical education class, the soccer team, and the community children. There have been no problems at the courts, she added.

“This has been a really positive thing for our kids,” she said. “Our kids and Wyandotte County deserve this kind of opportunity.”

Alec Lemmon, a coach of a youth soccer team called Toca City, said that the team trains at the Wyandotte High School futsal courts every week, including the winter, and it’s busy every night.

“Soccer is the one thing in this community that is a common activity, it’s a shared thing across the diversity of the community,” he said.

The proposed locations of the eight futsal courts, which are subject to change, are Bethany Park, Clopper Field, Highland Park, Klamm Park, Stony Point Park, Welborn Park, Westheight Park and Wyandotte County Lake Park.

UG officials noted that there had been some difficulty in the past in deciding where to put three soccer fields in Wyandotte County.

While the proposal was for one futsal court in each commission district, Commissioner Jim Walters asked that the exact locations of the futsal courts not be set in stone yet, but continue to be discussed between the UG and Sporting KC. He said that some commissioners believed that most of the fields should be in the more urban portions of the county.

UG Administrator Doug Bach said that six of the eight courts would probably fall within the geographic boundary of being close to or east of I-635 in the urban area.

David Alvey, a Board of Public Utilities member who is also a member of the Standing Committee, pointed out that there are pockets of low-income areas throughout the county, not just east of I-635.

Commissioner Gayle Townsend said some of her constituents were concerned about the tennis courts at Klamm Park.

However, Bob Roddy, director of public works, said that in Klamm Park, there are six tennis courts, and one is proposed to be converted to futsal, leaving five for tennis.

He said the UG staff examined the parks to find where there were underutilized tennis courts.

Townsend suggested having some meetings for the public to attend, hear the proposal and express their opinions.

Cotton said they would be willing to work with each commissioner to select the best park location in each district. However, because of the cost of $100,000 or more to build a new futsal court, they are looking at converting existing paved areas such as tennis courts.

After it comes back to the Standing Committee with more details set, the futsal proposal will go to a Unified Government Commission meeting at a later date for final approval.

UG tries to rein in animal problems

Dog packs running loose in the community is one of the issues that will be addressed in an examination of animal control policies.

Shortage of space at the animal shelter and increasing the limits on pets allowed at residences are some of the other issues that may be addressed.

Police Capt. Michelle Angell of animal control said traps have been set recently in the Quindaro area for wild dogs, and four dogs were caught in the past week. Animal control has received complaints about dogs running loose, some in packs.

Not helping the situation is that the animal shelter is often full and sometimes unable to accept more dogs. Recently, Capt. Angell reported, the state has told the local shelter that it cannot double up dogs in kennels.

Animal control was the topic at a Unified Government Standing Committee meeting on Monday night. Commissioner Jane Philbrook asked representatives from animal control and a committee looking at the issues to address the commissioners.

The UG Standing Committee unanimously voted Monday to have a committee continue to look at this situation and come up with a final proposal to submit to the commission, including a budget recommendation and ordinance changes.

Capt. Angell told the commissioners that irresponsible pet owners and the pet population were the reasons animal control agencies exist. She described several improvements recently at the animal shelter, which opened in 1986, including renovations; a new surgical room and recovery room being set up; on-site veterinary services to spay and neuter; an isolation room; and new epoxy flooring for the kennel.  Some of the improvements were required by the state.

Numbers of animals were down at the animal shelter during 2013 because of a state requirement to allow more space for animals.

Capt. Angell also said officers found that warnings were not working, so the number of summons issued went up during 2013 from 1,119 to 2,137.  If the pet owner gets shots for the animal prior to the court date, the citations are dismissed and the owners just pay court costs, she said.

Among the ideas being discussed by the committee will be increasing the staff for animal control; allowing a larger number of pets per residence; more education; and changing language in ordinances to more clearly define animal abuse or neglect. The city currently has a leash law and a limit on the number of pets per residence. The group will look at different ways to deal with the cat population.

Katie Barnett, an attorney representing Professionals for a Humane and Safe Kansas City, a coalition of animal shelters, cited a recent citizen survey that ranked animal control as a high priority. This group has been talking with people in the community for about seven months about animal control and policies.

She said people are most concerned about stray dogs and dogs at large; public safety concerns about dangerous animals are breed-neutral; neglect; reducing the community cat population; and pet limits.

She also noted that some segments of the community want to increase outdoor walking trails, but that if residents are afraid to go outdoors because of stray dogs, no one would use the trails.

The committee may look at revising ordinances concerning the dangerous animal section; revising the definition of “proper care” to more definable terms; humane tethering guidelines; pet limits; and lower community cat population. She advocated repealing breed-specific language and implementing no tolerance for dangerous animals. She supported a trap, neuter and return policy for community cats.

Barnett also recommended formal training for animal control officers, and looking at changes to operations policies at the animal shelter.

In addition, she advocated an education program on living safely with dogs, humane care, and community outreach.

Barnett also said animal control was understaffed for a city this size.

Listed as additional resources and revenues through changes advocated by Barnett were increased licensing revenue from raising the pet limit; increased licensing revenue from allowing all breeds of dogs; increased revenues from online licensing and fee payments; resources and money saved from not seizing, impounding and euthanizing community cats; resources better allocated from targeting reckless owners and dangerous dogs, and not targeting breeds of dogs; a reduced number of animals impounded with revised policies and ordinance changes; an increased number of adoptions through the animal shelter; a free ride home for licensed and microchipped animals instead of impounding them; and increased penalties and citations for reckless owners.

Barnett listed expenditures from these proposed changes as unfreezing and funding three additional animal control officers who would patrol; increased impoundment of stray and feral dogs; formal education and training for animal control officers; new “adoption counselor” position; and updated equipment to increase efficiency.

The committee is expected to discuss “breed discrimination,” the idea that certain breeds such as pit bulls are naturally vicious and should be banned. Barnett said the current thinking is that animal behavior varies according to individual animals and not according to breed. Pit bulls are currently banned in Kansas City, Kan., and there is a movement to allow them, according to officials.