A man running for governor in Kansas is spreading an easily disprovable lie and betting you won’t have a scintilla of patience to find out the truth. This column bets on you.
I will now repeat the false statements of this demagogue. Remember, if you tune out, this candidate wins, and he makes fools of us all. I won’t even name him. That could just give him more unearned publicity, which he craves through his incendiary statements. This demagogue stood up at a recent debate in a Kansas town and declared that K-12 spending in the state is higher than needed because of “Taj Mahal” school buildings in Johnson County.
“High schools look like junior colleges, and you will see administration buildings that look like Fortune 500 companies” he said.
Stop right there.
No, your eyes do not deceive you. It is true that new high schools in Johnson County do, indeed, blow you away with their extravagances, and the Shawnee Mission School District’s new Center for Academic Achievement is an eye-popping facility to behold. I have referred to them myself as a Taj Mahal. This amounts to demagoguery, though, because those lavish buildings were not built with state funds, and they had zero impact on the state’s budget or spending on schools, and the candidate knows it.
If you want to know the truth, the whole truth, and are willing to listen for just a moment, I will prove there is a total disconnect between what the demagogue utters and reality.
Those incredible buildings were financed by local taxpayers, a majority of whom voted to approve bonds for these facilities. Not one cent raised through those bonds can be spent on operating costs, such as the salaries of teachers, administrators, or costs including utilities, transportation, whatever you can think up that is not a “capital expense.”
In the case of Shawnee Mission’s $35 million administration building, which was specifically targeted for criticism by the demagogue, the project was funded as part of a $233 million bond issue approved with 80 percent of the vote through a mail-in election in 2015. That $233 million is debt paid back over a long period of time by taxpayers in that district.
The state Legislature did not vote on it. The governor had no say in it. Taxpayers in the same county but outside of the district saw no impact on their taxes. No one pays but those in the district if a majority approves.
Building and improvement of schools funded by a local bond issues approved by voters are happening all over Kansas, not just in Johnson County. For example, a $114 million bond issue was recently approved by voters in Derby, Kansas, a suburb of Wichita, to build a new elementary school. It will cost the owner of a $100,000 home there an extra $8.82 a month.
Out of 286 school districts in Kansas, about half have had school bond issues approved by voters during the past five years. Some bond issues raise the funds to build new schools. Others may go for building improvements, such as new air conditioning and heating equipment. But nothing goes to the teachers, administrators or anyone else. No counselor or nurse or anyone can be hired or compensated one cent more by money raised through a bond issue.
Some Kansas districts do not have the ability to take on the full debt load of a bond issue. In those cases, poorer districts can receive subsidies from the state up to about half the total cost. So, if a poor district that may not be growing wanted to raise, say, $10 million to make improvements on an existing school building, the state would cover up to $5 million of the debt.
There you have the truth that the demagogue absolutely knows but has chosen to deliberately distort. I’ll bet you can never figure out who that cunning candidate running for Kansas governor is.