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School efficiency chair recommends consolidation incentives

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Chair of controversial panel drafts list of recommendations
Posted: September 16, 2014 - 5:04pm
By Celia Llopis-Jepsen
The head of a controversial new school efficiency panel has drafted a list of policy recommendations, including incentives for Kansas school districts to consolidate, and potential restrictions on teacher bargaining rights and state aid for bond issues.
The draft list was emailed to members of the panel last week.
According to vice chairman Jim Hinson, superintendent of Shawnee Mission Unified School District 512, it was composed by Sam Williams, the Wichita businessman who is chairman of the panel.
“At this point the draft is from the chairman” together with legislative research staff, Hinson said. “But the entire commission has not yet weighed in.”
The draft is “predominantly based” on recommendations that were made to the panel in presentations, Hinson said.
As an example, he said several of the proposals stem from suggestions made by the Kansas Association of School Boards.
Commission members will discuss the draft at meetings later this week. The Topeka Capital-Journal has contacted Williams for comment.
Asked whether he supports the draft proposals, Hinson said, “I have questions on several recommendations.”
In particular, he said, it is important to discuss which elected bodies are the appropriate ones to deal with each of the items on the list.
“I think one of the things we're going to have some in-depth conversation about (is), what's the role of the Legislature, what's the role of the State Board, what's the role of the local board of education?” he said.
Williams’ draft touches on school finance, consolidation, bond aid, teacher pay, teacher tenure, teacher bargaining rights and other topics. For some recommendations, it suggests creating new committees or conducting further study before determining the details of implementation.
Some of the draft proposals include:

  •  Overhauling teacher pay by replacing salary schedules with salary ranges that reflect experience, expertise and other factors. Salary schedules, which are negotiated annually by teachers and school boards, set pay according to years of experience and educational attainment.
  •  Narrowing the number of work-related issues that teachers have the right to negotiate. Instead, more items would be negotiable at the discretion of school boards.
  •  Re-evaluating and possibly limiting state aid for bond issues. The state currently helps many school districts cover part of their bond costs. More aid goes to districts with weaker local tax bases.
  •  Considering additional incentives for school districts to merge or cooperate.
  •  Developing “a state plan for district-level administrative reorganization and alignment” and realigning “district geographical boundaries in order to facilitate administrative efficiencies.”

Mark Tallman, a lobbyist for the school board association, said his organization is pleased the draft includes KASB proposals.
But, he said “the devil is always in the details,” and the recommendations are still “conceptual.”
Tallman called the potential bond aid restrictions “concerning” if they would affect poorer school districts disproportionately.
“I think that would raise some constitutional questions on equity,” he said.
Marcus Baltzell, a press contact for the Kansas National Education Association, the state's main teachers union, said he hadn’t seen the draft yet, but attempts to narrow teacher rights wouldn’t be surprising because the panel “includes lobbyists from extreme anti-public education groups and extreme anti-labor groups.”
Baltzell was referring to Kansas Chamber president Mike O'Neal and Dave Trabert, a lobbyist for the free-market think tank Kansas Policy Institute. Their appointment to the panel by House Speaker Ray Merrick sparked debate in June.
“What’s more shocking to me is that these folks were welcomed onto this kind of committee,” he said.
The Legislature created the K-12 Student Performance and Efficiency Commission as part of a bill passed in April that combined a court-ordered school funding boost with a number of contentious changes to education policy.
That law requires the panel to submit a report to the Legislature by Jan. 9. The report could then lead to legislation in the 2015 legislative session.
Celia Llopis-Jepsen can be reached at (785) 295-1285 or
Follow Celia on Twitter @Celia_LJ.

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