As education leaders, we have recently become more aware of how trauma affects children, their learning, and well-being. This is one of the great new knowledge sets of my lifetime in education. We should also consider that trauma affects school leaders as well.
At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, educators have lived through some trauma in the past 10-12 years. Who can forget the trauma of the years following 2008 when state aid payments were questionable, and school leaders were faced with laying off staff and cutting programs they knew were good for kids?
One reaction to living through hard times is to become hyper-cautious. We saw budget reserves grow because districts were worried about making payroll and being able to pay vendors. It is a natural reaction and made sense at the time. No one wants to serve on the board that couldn’t make payroll.
But times have changed. We have a new finance plan that at the very least will provide 3-4 percent increases over the next four years. Better times call for different strategies. The Legislature’s Alvarez & Marsal study recommended reserves of no more than 15 percent unless some specific plan is in place for some specific reason.
The plaintiffs made a strong case that 25 percent of Kansas students need additional assistance to be successful. In the short-term, improved services are needed. In the long-term, improved salaries for teachers will attract and retain great educators. For the past decade we have lived with a shortage of educators in Kansas. Study after study shows teachers are underpaid in comparison with other professionals. Leaders have to step up and help the public understand that strong educators deserve strong salaries.
We also know strong programs are necessary to improve student success. Do you have adequate preschool services for your students? Are you meeting the needs of the modern workforce? Have you addressed “paperboy skills” as explained in Mark Tallman’s blog? (kasb.org/blog-source/tallman-education-report/)
It is wise to have adequate reserves. Board members have a fiduciary responsibility to have a budget that allows for possible contingencies. Board members have a duty to approve a budget that is responsible and provides funding for quality educators and programs to assure success for all students. Thanks to the Kansas Legislature, Governor, and courts, we can move ahead with responsible, but not hyper-conservative budgeting and spending practices.