President’s Perspective: ‘Keep it simple’ is a winning equation

by C. Patrick Woods
KASB President
Topeka USD 501

As we head into the holidays, my mind drifts back to the music that I associate with the season.

During Christmas, my family would often play music by artists from the Motown Record Label, such as The Temptations, The Jackson 5, etc. We were not alone in our love of Motown. Throughout the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, Motown was a virtual hit factory, discovering talent in every corner of the country. Many record labels tried to emulate the Motown success. Legendary music executive and Motown founder, Berry Gordy, had a maxim to which he attributed his success as a discoverer and promoter of talent: KISS, or “Keep It Simple, Stupid.”

With the exception of the last word, this maxim comes to mind as I think about the message that Kansans sent in this past election. From the two major party candidates in the governor’s race, we heard drastically different messages. There were calls for reducing the size of government, shifting more of the burden for funding schools to local communities, investment in public infrastructure, and strengthening public schools.

The victorious candidate, Senator Laura Kelly, promised to return to the time-honored traditions that Kansas governors of both parties have subscribed to – investments in public infrastructure, workforce development, and above all, strong public schools.
Kansas voters, when given the choice between two very different alternatives, opted for Sen. Kelly’s message. When we strip away party labels and consider this election result in historical and issue-focused terms, the results come as no surprise.

From the very inception of the state, Kansans have placed public education atop of the critical responsibilities of state and local government. Dating back to the 1859 ratification of the Wyandotte Constitution until present day, Kansans have, with some exceptions, repeatedly chosen the candidate or candidates that professed to share their values of strong public schools.

It’s a pretty simple equation:

  • Support strong and equitable public schools; plus
  • possess the ability to work with and on behalf of all Kansas; equals
  • victorious candidate.

This is the simple message that Kansans of all parties sent to elected officials in this month’s gubernatorial election – “Do your jobs, support our schools, and don’t complicate things by injecting too much bombast.” In other words, “keep it simple.” It’s clear that voters prefer competent government, cooperation and results to bombast and scorched earth politics.

I can think of no better advice for the incoming administration and Legislature: support public schools, make government responsive to the needs of all its citizens and keep it simple. And I can think of no better partners for state government in this work than school board members.
As elected officials, we are committed to lifting the students in our communities by providing our educators with the tools they need and engaging parents in their students’ learning. Our elected responsibilities don’t come with a paycheck, don’t often generate “above the fold” headlines, and because we work so closely with our colleagues on our boards, they don’t lend themselves to bombastic flare.

In other words, we are used to keeping it simple. Regardless of party labels, geography or ideological subscriptions, state policymakers can count on school board members as ready and able partners in the work of improving student education outcomes.

As Gov-elect Kelly’s administration prepares to take office, we should all reflect upon that simple message sent by Kansas voters, and we should look for every opportunity to partner in any and all efforts that strengthen public education. It’s just that simple.

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