Superintendents criticize lawmaker’s school column
Topeka Superintendents at three Kansas school districts say examples of questionable spending cited in a column written by a legislative leader are misleading or untrue.
State Rep. Kathe Decker, R- Clay Center, who chairs the House Education Committee, wrote the column, which was e-mailed to newspapers across the state.
"She has to stop this," Dodge City Supt. Gloria Davis said of Decker's comments. "There is not a shred or ounce of truth to these accusations."
In the piece written by Decker, the legislator criticizes the recent Kansas Supreme Court decision that requires lawmakers to increase school funding by $285 million by July 1. The Legislature will meet in special session beginning June 22 to tackle the problem.
Decker goes on to criticize the school lobby for demanding more funds without accountability.
She cites three examples of why lawmakers are skeptical of schools needing more money. They are:
¢ Rumors that in Dodge City, Supt. Davis ordered a $20,000 desk and wouldn't allow lawmakers to see it, and that the district installed a large screen television in the weight room;
¢ The Salina district installed Astro-Turf on its soccer field;
¢ The Lakin school district in west Kansas purchased a new activities bus for $250,000 and spent $80,000 on computer equipment from its general fund, leaving only $9,000 for any kind of salary increase for teachers.
Davis said the comment about the desk just wasn't true. She said she worked at a desk that was there when she arrived at the district four years ago. She said it was bolted to the floor and was made by carpenters who work for the district "in order to save money."
As for not letting lawmakers see the desk, she said, "I met with (Reps.) Melvin Neufeld and Pat George just last week. Now we didn't meet in my office, but I invited them. They're welcome to see the desk any time."
The alleged large-screen television is really a standard-sized television that the coaches use to watch video of teams, she said.
"This is a true lack of professionalism," Davis said of Decker's comments. "Had she just picked up the phone and checked it out, she would have found out the truth."
In Salina, the district has installed Astro-Turf at a cost of $520,000 in its stadium, which is used extensively by two high schools and youth leagues for numerous sports, according to Supt. Rob Winter.
Winter said the costs were funded by deferred maintenance savings, a contract with a soft-drink company for concessions and money raised by a local booster group.
"By leveraging community support and reallocating existing funds, we are able to accomplish a highly beneficial project for our school and our community," he said.
He said the new field would reduce maintenance costs and had already attracted more revenue-producing sports events, such as next year's 4A football championship game.
"We felt like in the long run this was economically more advisable," Winter said.
In Lakin, Supt. Randall Steinle said the district bought a used activities bus for $140,000 - not $250,000. He said the purchase of the bus and computers came out of the school's capital outlay budgets, which by law cannot be used for teacher salaries.
"Her deal that we don't use money wisely is not accurate," he said.
Contacted about the discrepancies, Decker said she was relying on information that had been conveyed to her by people in each of those districts.
"I tried to be very careful before I put something in the paper," she said. But, she added, "I probably should have called them but I did not."
All three of the superintendents agreed Decker should have spoken to them.
"I would have welcomed the opportunity to visit with Rep. Decker regarding several issues raised in her letter," Salina's Winter said. "It was unfortunate that I was not given this opportunity."
Decker said the point of her column was that lawmakers hear from schools that they need more funds, but then they spend money on extras.
But, she said, she would be willing to change her comments if the districts she mentioned showed her their budgets to prove she was wrong.
- John Taylor contributed to this story.