When Calvin and Hobbes went down that snow slope for the last time, it was a sad day. Bill Watterson’s view of life through the eyes of a little boy and his “stuffed” tiger was spot on. One of my favorites shows Calvin and Hobbes in a snow fort with a stack of snowballs at the ready. Calvin is holding forth about the impenetrable snow fort they have built. “None dare attack us.” “We are invincible!” In the second to the last panel, Hobbes is smirking at him, and in the last panel, Hobbes whacks Calvin in the head with a giant snowball. You have probably heard the old expression, “circle the wagons and shoot inward.”
This scenario has been, and will continue to play itself out at board tables across Kansas. As budgets get tighter and tighter, the snow fort walls get taller and taller, and then whack! “Why do ‘those kids’ get everything?” Who are “those kids?” It all depends on where you sit. “All of our resources go to special kids, the regular kids get no support.” “The school is not meeting the requirements of my child’s IEP, why are you cutting special education services?” “Band gets short shrift. We haven’t bought new music in two years!” “You cut more coaches? It’s a safety issue!”
Board members know why special education services are stretched. Old timers like me remember when kids with severe needs were served in special state hospitals. Then we were told to serve them in our communities. Now special education is funded at the minimum allowed by federal law, funding about 72 percent of excess costs instead of the 92 percent required by state law.
Critics will say just cut administrative costs. That’s an easy snowball to throw. We have 10 fewer superintendents and 49 fewer principals than we did five years ago in Kansas. Administrators who in the past worked with discipline, supervision of staff, improvement of instruction, and enhanced safety. Ask a teacher what happens when administrative services are cut, their workloads increase and support decreases.
If we don’t turn on ourselves and take the time to think about the issues in our schools, some answers become clear. It is just a matter of connecting dots. The Kansas Constitution says the legislature must provide for an improving education system. The courts have consistently ruled that the obligation is not being met. School boards are left dealing with the consequences. Parents then see it first hand in their schools.
Parents, talk to your board members about your concerns, but don’t be a Hobbes in Calvin’s snow fort. Your board members are doing their best with what they have. Don’t circle the wagons and shoot inward. Connect the dots and look beyond your local board table. Ask your legislator if he or she has engaged with their local board(s) to listen and try to find solutions?