Monday, January 28, 2013

School Efficiency Report Sparks Interest

Governor Brownback's School Efficiency Task Force recommendations were presented to a joint meeting of the House and Senate Education Committees today, with Republicans generally applauding concepts they say would cut administrative costs, and Democrats zeroing in on proposals dealing with teacher tenure and negotiations, and potential district consolidation.

The report, explained in more detail in my post on Saturday, calls for several studies of issues in greater depth.  It does not contain specific language for legislation.  But task force chair Ken Willard of Hutchinson, who also serves on the Kansas State Board of Education, said almost every recommendation would take legislation to accomplish.  Under questioning from Sen. Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, he noted that while the report scrupulously avoids the term "consolidation," proposals to develop regional administrative structures and realign geographic boundaries would likely lead to fewer school districts.

Mr. Willard stressed he believes most of the inefficiencies in school operations were caused by state and federal requirements, not choices at the local level. A special committee established by KASB to monitor and make recommendations to the Governor's task force noted that a wide range of state and federal policies direct or constrain school district operations and resource allocations.  Mr. Willard today and several committee members have endorsed the idea of trying to roll back many of those requirements. In my testimony to the education committees last week, I pointed out that every mandate had a reason and constituency behind it, which makes repealing or changing any significant requirement extremely controversial.  In fact, in most years the Legislature adds new requirements to deal with real or perceived problems.

An example is the task force recommendations in the area of professional negotiations.  A bill making significant changes in the professional negotiations act, HB 2085, is scheduled for a hearing tomorrow (Tuesday) afternoon at 1:30 p.m. in a different committee; the House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee.  We analyzed that bill in Sunday's post.  Supporters of the bill say it is designed to make it easier for school districts to allocate personnel and resources.  Opponents say it is an attack on teachers and their unions.

KASB will testify that one part of the bill, removing evaluation procedures from teacher negotiations, is a priority for the association adopted by the Delegate Assembly in December.  A second part of the bill, removing negotiations over certain teacher scheduling issues, is also supported by KASB positions.  However, KASB will not support other provisions of the bill which have not been addressed by KASB members.  We will urge the committee to seek a broader agreement on changes to improve teaching and learning.

We expect to be criticized by some for being too supportive of the bill, and by others for not being supportive enough. Our position in testimony is based on the positions adopted by our members, which is why school board involvement in developing our policies is so important.

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