What do the Governor’s School Efficiency Proposals Mean?

What do the Governor’s School Efficiency Proposals Mean?

The Governor’s School Efficiency
Task Force recommendations will be presented to the House and Senate Education
Committees Monday at 1:30 p.m. by task force chair and State Board of Education
member Ken Willard, R-Hutchinson, and to the Senate Ways and Means Committee
Tuesday at 10:30 a.m.
The Task Force final report is available here: http://www.kasb.org/assets/Advocacy/SchoolEffTFFinal012113.pdf
Several of the recommendations
are relatively minor proposals, generally supported by KASB.  Recommendation #1 is a two-year school funding cycle.  KASB supports development of multi-year school
funding and many superintendents say budgets longer than one year would improve
planning and efficiency.  Recommendation #2
calls for timely payments of state school aid, which would help districts
manage cash flow.  But the recent
recession years demonstrated the state can’t make payments if it doesn’t have
the revenue itself.  Governor Brownback
has proposed a two-year budget, but the actual revenues for the second of those
years will not be known until after June of 2015 – 30 months from now.  A two-year budget will be a guide, not a
guarantee.
Recommendation #4 call a study
on implementing a state data management and accounting system for streamlined educational
reporting.  Of course districts would
appreciate an improved reporting system, but it will take a study to determine
how the current system can be improved and at what cost.  Recommendation #9 calls for “financial
management” courses
to be required for district leadership licensing,
but that seems to be already in place.  Recommendation
#11 proposes a limit on the length of special education due process hearings,
but KASB special education lawyers say that would probably be against federal law
(except in gifted cases, which are controlled by state law).
Recommendation #7 calls for the
Legislature to eliminate, reduce or consolidate the various cash reserve accounts school
districts are required to use, with a “modest” carryover limit from year to
year.  School boards appreciate
additional flexibility in the use of funds. 
But the funds with the largest cash balances each year are bond and
interest funds used to pay anticipated costs and scheduled payments; capital
outlay, special reserve, textbook and other funds where districts accumulate money
for long-term needs; and areas like special education and food service where
districts need balances for cash flow until scheduled revenues are received
(even when paid on time).  The largest
other fund – contingency reserve – was given a higher carryover limit just last
session by the Legislature.
Potentially more substantial proposals
concern bond and interest and capital outlay, the two major means for districts
to address buildings and equipment costs. 
Recommendation #3 calls for a study of bond and interest state aid
to maintain the current equalization system but place an annual or bi-annual
cap on new obligations incurred.  That is
highly preferable to attempts in recent years to either eliminate the program
entirely, or simply reduce the percentage of aid paid by the state, regardless
of need.
Recommendation #5 makes three
proposals for restructuring the operating parameters associated with the capital
outlay fund
.  However, the report
does not propose restoring state equalization aid payments for capital
outlay.  As a result, the first proposal,
an annual cap on the amount of money transferred from the general fund to
capital outlay, would have a disproportionate impact on lower property wealth
districts that raise little or no money from their capital outlay levy.  Higher wealth districts can raise much more
money per mill or per pupil, and have less need for transfers.  Likewise, the second proposal, broadening the
definition of allowable capital outlay uses, would be helpful to districts that
can raise greater amounts of revenue per pupil from the capital outlay levy.  But it would do little for those with limited or no capital outlay revenue to spend on other purposes.  The third proposal, requiring districts to
have a published five-year rolling maintenance plan, seems like a useful
planning tool that most districts are already doing to some degree.
It should be noted the
three-judge panel in the Gannon
school finance case ruled earlier this month that the current capital outlay levy
system is unconstitutional unless the state restores equalization aid, at an
estimated cost of $22 million per year. 
The same principles would certainly apply to the bond and interest
program if efforts to end it are renewed.
An even more controversial proposal
is Recommendation #6, which would narrow the Professional Negotiations Act to
“prevent it from hindering operational flexibility/resource assignment.”  This recommendation includes proposals to
review teacher tenure, replace the current salary schedule for teachers, and
narrow the number of mandatorily negotiable items.  While tenure is not part of the PNA,
legislation has already been introduced to address the other topics (HB 2085).  We will discuss these issues in more detail in
a future post about that bill and related issues.  Suffice it to say these changes will be
strongly opposed the Kansas National Education Association and its allies in
the Legislature and labor movement, and likely be controversial even among
school boards.
Perhaps the most potentially
far-reaching proposal is Recommendation #8, which calls for a study of school
district administration
, and development of a state plan for district-level
administrative reorganization and alignment, including regionalization of administrative
structures and changing district boundaries for administrative efficiency.
Although this proposal carefully
avoids using the term “consolidation,” which Governor Brownback seemed to take
off the table when the Task Force was appointed, these concepts go farther than
anything else in the report toward a major change in the current structure of K-12
schools.  Many legislators and other
observers say Kansas school districts simply have too many administrators and
could operate more efficiency through significant consolidation of
administrative programs.  On the other
hand, KASB reported to the House and Senate Education Committees this week that
Kansas ranks 7th in the nation for educational achievement, but 27th
in current spending per pupil.  Every
higher achieving state spends significantly more.  The current system is delivering very high
results at a moderate price – a more effective indicator of efficiency than the
number of districts or administrators.
Recommendation #10
calls for developing a commonly-accepted definition of “instructional” spending
and reviewing the goal of spending 65% of education funding on instruction.  According to federal reports, Kansas spends
61.2% of its current operating expenditures per pupil ($9,715) on instruction,
ranking 13th in the nation in 2010. 
The only three states spending at least 65% on instruction are New York
(69.7% of $18,618), (66.3% of $10,685) and Nebraska (66.0% of $10,734); which
means every” 65% state” spends more per pupil than Kansas, and only one ranks higher
in achievement (Minnesota).  Nebraska ranks 14th in achievement and New York 23rd. Finally, recommendation
#12, for an efficiency audit of the Kansas State Department of Education,
was a late addition to the task force report with little discussion during public
meetings.
Contact me for further
information.