Archive for Thursday, May 20, 2010

Letters to the Editor

May 20, 2010

To the editor:

In our city, state and federal governments, our leadership is struggling to preserve our way of life. Tax dollars may no longer provide the basic needs to the general public. As the Kansas legislature closed its 2010 session at four in the morning, a $314 million sales tax increase was passed, a necessary evil to avoid further budget cuts. Gov. Mark Parkinson responded, “The bipartisan, balanced budget on its way to my desk reflects the values and priorities of Kansans. The 1-cent sales tax is a temporary solution which prevents permanent damage to our children’s education...”

Locally, it appears some damage has already been done. In 1997, my family moved to Baldwin City from Lawrence because we wanted our children to attend Baldwin schools. My wife is an educator and we have worn with pride our district's outstanding educational reputation. However, over the past several years, we have witnessed the exodus of some of our best teachers and students to neighboring districts. Our reputation as an excellent educational choice is on the line and the impact of a downgraded school district would have far-reaching negative effects in our community.



Across the nation, many districts are consolidating as a means to manage difficult budgets. I am not well versed on the specific challenges facing Baldwin’s courageous hired or elected leaders who are attempting to preserve a positive learning environment for our children, but what makes us different? According to the Fact Finding Committee’s report posted on the USD 348 website, hundreds of thousands of dollars can be saved each year by consolidating our elementary school system with minimal effect on class size.

Our State Representative, Tony Brown, describes an “us versus them” mentality in the House, and explains how this destructive mind set negatively affected his work in passing the new sales tax increase. Let’s not allow this same mentality to interfere with our responsibility to provide the best possible educational experience in our community.

Kent Johnson

Baldwin City


To the editor:

I have to say that as I sit here writing this today I am highly disappointed. I feel School Board Member Scott Lauridsen made a very true and strong comment at the board meeting last week. The fact is our board was elected to make sound financial decisions regarding our school district and all of the students within that school district. I realize that decisions are incredibly difficult to reach sometimes, but as a taxpayer I would ask that they stop making emotional decisions and start making sound financial decisions regarding the future of our school district.

Our district cannot sustain and maintain the number of buildings that we currently have. At the present time we are barely sustaining and definitely not maintaining. When we are asked in December (and I believe we will be) to further cut our already bare-bone budget, will we have enough money to buy the buckets we’ll need for the leaks?

Our students have difficulty seeing to get their lockers open because of the inadequate lighting. Our students wear their coats in the winter because it is so cold. Our buildings have no budgets allotted to them.

Rather than making a decision to close our rural schools that would impact our district budget now, and in the long-term, attempts are being made to put a band-aid on it and nickel and dime it to death. A discussion was held on increasing the activity fee to $80 per activity for the 2010-11 school year. This affects the working poor in our district (and there are many) that do not qualify for free or reduced lunch. There are many families that will not be able to allow their child(ren) to participate in activities because they cannot afford the fees…not just athletics, activities! Activities, such as debate and forensics, that can help shape and ensure their futures. I realize that decision has not been made firm and may be delayed until July before the final fees are announced. But is this the answer to our problem?

Yes, the legislature has passed the sales tax. There will be more money out of the taxpayer’s pocket going to that 1 percent increase, plus the increase in fees, not only for textbooks but also for activities. If the activity/textbook fees are raised again, as a quick fix to this huge problem, my fees will have gone up 400 percent. Long-term decisions must be made. Logistically we cannot continue to operate on the shoestring budget that we have been trying to operate on.

It is imperative for our board to face the truth of this situation and to close the rural schools in our district. If we want the long-term benefits for our school district and students, and intend long-term smart financial planning, then the tough decisions need to be made today. They cannot and should not take the easy way out by way of fee increases because it is less emotional.

Susan England

Baldwin City

To the editor:

After the Baldwin School Board's budget discussion of recent months, I wanted to share my thoughts on the process. This letter represents one board member's feelings. I do not write on behalf of the entire board.

Last week, after the school board conducted a very thorough process in preparation for further education cuts, the Kansas legislature passed bills that hold state education funding flat for next year. That's good, not great, news for education. It's nowhere near as bad as we feared it could be.

We still need to make some new cuts to move into the next school year responsibly. Based on recent experience, the state may well cut our budget mid-year. It would be irresponsible to move forward without reserves to handle these possible mid-year cuts. To that end, the board has endorsed a plan that implements a number of new cuts, including significant reductions in administrative costs. These cuts will allow us to carry enough money in the budget to cover mid-year cuts like the state handed down last year. They will also allow us to cover increases in employee health insurance and other rising costs. You can see information on these cuts at the district web site: http://usd348.com/2010/05/11/budget-cut-faqs/

Things not listed in this series of cuts include: four-day school week, attendance centers, seventh grade activities and school closings.

The board had a lengthy discussion on May 10 about the best way to proceed as a district. We talked a lot about activity and book fees. While there are fee increases listed among the cuts now, the board has agreed to discuss that issue further. I have thought about this a lot since our last meeting. After studying the issue, comparing us to surrounding districts and hearing feedback from parents who would be directly impacted, I do not think I can support increasing our activity or enrollment fees.

The board also talked at length about whether or not we have already reached the point where closing a building is the best option for saving money and other programs. After the meeting, I immediately received messages from people who felt that we blew an opportunity by not closing a building now. I also heard from those who are grateful that we did not take that action.

Now that the state has told us we should not face further cuts for next year, I do not support closing a building at this time. I feel that way not out of loyalty to any particular building or set of patrons. I feel that way because closing a building does not save much money by itself. The big savings come from cutting teaching positions and increasing class sizes at our developmentally crucial K-5 levels. I think keeping our class sizes in the low-to-medium range is a top priority. We have a good student/teacher ratio in Baldwin City. I think that is a key part of why all of our buildings excel. I do not think it is time to experiment with increasing those class sizes. I believe in keeping as many of our excellent teachers as possible, and in maintaining our student/teacher ratios. For now, I believe we are able to do so. That said, as we continue to deal with our district's tough financial issues, closing one or two buildings remains a very real possibility. I think the entire board, as well as our superintendent, realizes as much.

Thanks to all of you who reached out with your concerns, your ideas and your support. We need your input, and I value your passion. I always try to make decisions based on what I feel is best for our kids. Whether you agree with my conclusions or not, I appreciate that you share that goal. There are a number of reasons Baldwin City has excellent schools. Smart, motivated and involved parents and patrons are a key factor.

Ande Parks

Board Member - USD No. 348

To the editor:

The Baldwin School Board has approved tier 1 cuts to be implemented for the next school year. Included in those reductions are teacher cuts, replacing certified librarians with library aides and fee increases to students. More state cuts are expected mid-way into the 2010-2011 school year. With the temporary 1 percent sales tax approved last week, many Kansas school districts are breathing a sigh of relief and removing cuts that had previously been planned. But Baldwin School District patrons continue to panic with the budget crisis that we continue to endure even with the sales tax increase. As we continue to use the “band-aid” approach in hopes of getting through another school year we continue to lose quality programs, quality staff and the quality of education that the entire Baldwin community has strived to build. As a community we need to be fiscally responsible and consolidate to give the present and future children in our community an equal and quality education.

Lisa Pattrick

Baldwin City

To the editor:

I live on High Street, and once again I am writing in to complain about people speeding up and down our street, 24-7. Along with semi trucks going up and down as fast as they want, and no one seems to care enough that these trucks are wearing ridges into the roads, along with putting deep holes in the road up by the depot.

No one seems to care that I feel unsafe walking to my mailbox across the street (and I almost got hit today.) As the guys were driving away they were laughing and thinking it was no big deal to drive down our road at any speed.

We need the police to do their job and sit down by the depot or the grain elevator and set up a speed trap. This is where you could really make a difference and give out tickets.

Sherry Ford

Baldwin City

Comments

Torch 3 years, 11 months ago

I don't think 'cut' is the right word. I think what we're experiencing is a reduction in fat. Anyone involved in the district knows that there are several employees who are not necessary and whose absence would not materially impact the students.

Remember, this is a school district that was paying $65,000 for a full-time Athletic Director a few years ago. When he retired his responsiblities were divided between two people for a total of $16,000.

Not everyone in the district is an angel and a valuable, contributing member to the education of your children. Fat reduction is what we need...and it's way past time.

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greyghost 3 years, 11 months ago

Susan England: "Our district cannot sustain and maintain the number of buildings that we currently have."

Understatement of the Decade! However, just because there is some inability to maintain and sustain, does not mean you have to build another school, does it? I think eventually we'll have a school for each grade, then everyone will be happy.


Ande Parks: "I think keeping our class sizes in the low-to-medium range is a top priority. We have a good student/teacher ratio in Baldwin City. I think that is a key part of why all of our buildings excel."

Thank you, Ande!

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Cityboy 3 years, 11 months ago

I want to say I support both Dorathy and the school board in the "tough" decision making process. As my father always told patrons that did not agree with his decisions and/or methods, "my job was open when I came to town ... if you don't like what I'm doing, apply for my job and see if you can do better." He held is position for over 20+ years and then retired on his own accord. If you think you can do a better job, put your money where your mouth is and run for a school board position. My only advice to you is don’t run because you have a chip on your shoulder or an ax to grind, run because you feel you can have a positive influence on our children.

In my opinion, we are working thru the process that our founding fathers set in place ... it's a republic not a democracy. We have elected representatives (the school board members) to represent their give constituents and make decisions on our behalf. This is a very tough job and their ultimate decisions will not satisfy everyone's opinion.

That being said, I want everyone to think about what they are asking. From a leadership perspective I always prefaced my decisions with, “Don’t ask someone to do something you are not willing to do yourself.” The school board put forth the idea of redrawing the boundary lines to equalize the student to teacher ratio for all of Baldwin’s elementary schools. It was my understanding that some of the patrons did not like this because their children would now be forced into a different school. Isn’t that exactly what we are talking about in closing the rural schools?

I have tried to take a logical, business, and impartial view of the budget constraints our school board is facing today. Closing both rural schools is not the silver bullet some individuals think it is. Quick question … does anyone know the return on investment (ROI) for closing both rural schools and then passing a bond to expand the “new” intermediate center to accommodate the increased number of students? To say we are going to save expenses while increasing capital outlay at the patron’s expense (property taxes) is not sound fiscal policy. Should we close one school, maybe? Should we close both, definitely not!

We have a greater fundamental problem in Baldwin and that is planning. What is the root cause for the issues we are facing today in Baldwin School district … planning? I think the current school board and administration has done an excellent job laying the ground work for putting together a comprehensive plan for Baldwin’s school growth. Is it perfect? No, but it’s a start.

My old high school football coach once told me that opinions are like arm pits and a**holes. Everyone has one and they all stink. I’m beginning to think Baldwin City (rural, city, and myself) is starting to stink:) We will get through this together, but it cannot be through lawsuit, petitions, lynch mobs, etc … it must be done through compromise.

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Spiderpig 3 years, 11 months ago

People need to know that we get funding for every student that we put into new buildings for 2 years. By moving boundaries the board is moving students away from the new building. Thus, the board has decided that we don't need this extra funding. Probably won't be any letter to the editor explaining how this makes sense.

Ande: "I feel that way because closing a building does not save much money by itself"

Aren't you the one that brought up cutting 7th grade sports to save $25,000. What exactly is your definition of "much money"? You know that you save that money every year right? $100,000 / year, every year seems like a lot in the long run.

"We have a good student/teacher ratio in Baldwin City. I think that is a key part of why all of our buildings excel. I do not think it is time to experiment with increasing those class sizes."

The JH and HS have ALL of the students and still mange to excel. It's not an experiment.

Cityboy: I couldn't be on the board, or any other public office for that matter. I would feel way too dirty.

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NanCrisp 3 years, 11 months ago

Susan England says, "A discussion was held on increasing the activity fee to $80 per activity for the 2010-11 school year. This affects the working poor in our district (and there are many) that do not qualify for free or reduced lunch. "

The income cut-off for the reduced lunch program for a family of four is $40,793 annual income. That is determined by the amount on which that family pays taxes on the bottom line of their 1040. Anyone whose family income is below that level would not have to pay the higher activity fees. I do agree that at an income of $40,793 a family can be included amongst the working poor. But I also agree that the level is appropriately set, because my family of four has had reported income slightly below that level for the past two years, and yet we have not applied for our reduced lunch benefits. Indeed, in these recessionary times, we have chosen to practice strict austerity and tight frugality instead of accessing hand-outs that we really can get by without. By these means we have managed to be able to afford the things that are truly necessary, including higher taxes, higher costs of living, and higher fees for numerous activities and services for our children.

I believe that families with reported income slightly above $41,000 annually should have no problem with the slightly higher activity fees. Especially when the alternatives to agreeing to such minor fees include increasing classroom sizes and putting additional stress on academic quality.

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baldwinfan 3 years, 11 months ago

NanCrisp -

I think it's great that you are practicing strict austerity and tight frugality, but I disagree that incomes slightly above $41,000 should have no problem with higher activity fees. I can think of many instances when they could have trouble paying higher fees, such as losing a job from the previous year and not making the same salary, having unexpected medical bills or paying for parents medical bills.

What about increasing attendance fees to watch sporting events instead. I would think with a child's family attending games, a $1 increase at the door would spread out the costs more than having parents pay for increased activity fees. Just an idea.

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