Kansas School Efficiency Task Force is already controversial

WICHITA, Kansas – It’s all abuzz on social media. The school efficiency task force.

Many are questioning what the task force will do. Will teacher salaries be an issue? Will small schools have to consider consolidation?

That task force meets Thursday and Friday.

“That is just not the focus,” says Ken Thiessen, a task force member and a school principal at Wichita East High School. “And, so, when it comes to the consolidation issue, I would say that from my perspective, that is not part of the conversation. What I would say is that there has been discussion and I think that there will be discussion as to how it pertains to how do we maximize the resources that we have and because of the scale of some of the smaller districts. How might they be able to work to together to utilize different structures and to maximize the amount of money. One of the things that was in a governor’s task force (on) efficiency in the past had to do with some business practices. So maybe there’s a way for different districts to potentially, to consider, how can we utilize some expertise outside our district to be more efficient, maybe with our payroll practices or with our accounting procedures?”

John Robb is an attorney from Newton that has helped sue the state of Kansas with a couple of different lawsuits to better fund K-12 education.

“Oh, any time you mention school efficiency in Kansas, people are going to ask about that word. Consolidation,” explains Robb. “Is forced consolidation on the table? It does not appear to be the case.”

But, Robb explains, the ideas of school efficiency and consolidation sometimes go together.

“Look, the last time Kansas addressed forced consolidation, was in the 1960′,” says Robb. “And (at the time) they reduced a number of school districts dramatically and they forced school districts to consolidate. And it was a political atom bomb that went off in the state. And here we are fifty years later and there are still folks that have not even begun to forget about it. So it is a very hot topic if people bring up forced consolidation.”

Thiessen says, yes, consolidation issues have already been brought up to the task force.

“From a much bigger picture. It’s been very interesting.  And in the process of learning a lot, we hear from superintendents from across the state that share with the commission,” explains Thiessen. “Consolidation to my knowledge, hasn’t realistically come up at all. From a consolidation of the districts. There has been some talk from some of the presenters to the commission. And that is something important to point out, and that is the commission has not had any conversations yet, for the most part. We’ve had very few, limited conversations. We have been primarily listening. So if anyone thinks a particular path is going to be taken, they’re probably taking that (thought) because presenters have suggested that we take certain paths.”

In fact, Thiessen says any relevant talk about consolidation could be problematic at best. He cites consolidation of school leadership in smaller school districts as a starting point in the conversation.

“I think it would be very difficult. It’s up to the commission to have some conversations,” says Thiessen.  ” I think it could be very problematic to have individuals that serve multiple masters. And when you have a superintendent that is supposed to serve multiple districts, the problem that comes into that is, who is his master?  Or, who, ultimately, is he/she responsible to? So, if he/she is responsible to three districts, two of them like him and one of them doesn’t like him. What are the practical application of that?”

Thiessen says the task force will hear about teacher salaries and other issues. And, he says, the task force will offer recommendation and an action plan to lawmakers for the new legislative session.


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