Yael T. Abouhalkah

Gutsy KCK Superintendent Cynthia Lane confronts Gov. Sam Brownback on school funding

Superintendent Cynthia Lane has made some tough decisions in the last week trying to balance the budget of the Kansas City, Kan., Public Schools District.

So Lane isn’t about to take any guff from Gov. Sam Brownback and his office’s continued declaration that a new school funding law isn’t going to hurt her district.

The events, in order:

▪ On Friday, Lane eliminated 30 positions with the district, put in place four furlough days for all year-round employees, ordered a 10 percent-across-the-board cut to department budgets, and reduced spending on textbooks, technology, transportation and professional development.

“The state is failing in its constitutional obligation to provide a suitable education for all students,” Lane said. “The decisions being made in Topeka will impact the lives of children in Kansas for generations to come. I pray that legislators will decide to do the right thing, and provide sufficient support for public schools across the state of Kansas.”

Lane also took a shot at the new block-grant program for schools which the Legislature passed this spring. It replaces the traditional school finance formula, and she said it had reduced funding for the KCK district and others across Kansas.

▪ The Brownback administration quickly fired back, offering a chart that it said showed “accurate numbers for KCK USD 500, as provided by the Kansas State Department of Education.”

“The block grant funding shows a $20,741,831 INCREASE over the life of the Block Grant; not a loss of $2 million as the superintendent claimed,” the governor’s statement said. “Once again, it appears that opponents of the block grant find it convenient to blame the legislation for any issues they face.”

▪ Then, this week, the KCK District responded with strong language in a press release that disputed the Brownback administration’s contentions. It used words such as “disappointing,” “erroneous,” “irrelevant” and “error in logic.”

The first big flaw, as the district noted: Brownback’s statement said the block grant funding started this fiscal year. It didn’t. It starts next year, and lasts for two years.

So there is no $20.7 million increase through block grants.

The district went on to point out that a chunk of $7.5 million from the block grants can’t be spent in the classroom but has to be used for the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System to do a better job funding the pension system for public employees.

Some of the block grant money is “temporarily (a matter of minutes) routed through district accounts, so that the state can claim that it is state funding to the district, but it is not available for the district to spend, so it can hardly be considered an increase.”

Lane also criticized the income tax cuts that Brownback approved in 2012, the ones that are costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

But a Brownback spokesman just days ago doubled down on the cuts, saying the governor would veto any bill brought by the Legislature that threatens them.

Today, the Legislature enters its 103rd day of the scheduled 90-day session. Lawmakers have not come close yet to passing a balanced budget.

Yet notice: Lane recently made the difficult decisions to do just that — balance her system’s own budget.

The fate of the KCK district and others across the state will be affected by whatever decision the lawmakers reach in the coming days.

To reach editorial page columnist Yael T. Abouhalkah, call 816-234-4887 or send email to abouhalkah@kcstar.com. Twitter @YaelTAbouhalkah.