Wink Hartman, a Wichita businessman running for the Republican nomination for Kansas governor, also spoke about his views on education during his Thursday stop in Hays as part of a four-day, 12-stop tour of the state.
Hartman said the state essentially has three school systems:
• The northeast, with school districts like Blue Valley, which has 34 schools, more than 22,000 students and more than 3,000 teachers and staff.
• Wichita USD 259, with 93 schools, more than 50,000 students and 9,000 teachers and staff.
• What he calls “West Kansas,” that is everything west of Wichita to the Colorado state line.
Schools have too many administrators, he said, citing an unnamed district with four schools within a 30-mile area and four superintendents who each oversee 900 to 1,200 students.
“If you want to provide a better situation, you could get by with one superintendent,” he said.
When it was pointed out many districts in western Kansas have only a few hundred students and in small districts, superintendents often take additional roles as principals, teachers or coaches, he offered praise.
“That’s a much better representation of getting something done. Now you’ve got an individual doing three jobs. That’s a start,” he said.
“If we can’t figure out the management style, we need to change the system. Something’s got to be done,” he said.
“The only path we’ve created now is to keep throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at these schools and say we’re saving education. That is the farthest thing from the truth.”
Hartman said the $293 million appropriation by the Legislature for education in the fiscal 2018 budget is a “total waste of money.”
“The $293 million would be absorbed into what I call the management umbrella of our education system,” he said.
“They will absorb a lot of that money. We will continue to add football stadiums, indoor swimming pools and additional structures that we could do without if not short term or longer term,” he said.
“The monies that we appropriate need to go to the children.”
Hartman also said teachers need to be held accountable to help keep the best teachers from leaving the state. Raises should be based on merit, he said. Good teachers should not get the same raises as those who don’t show up early, stay late and work with the students.
“In my world of business, some people are better than others. That’s just the way nature happens to be,” he said. “The hundreds and hundreds of employees I have, they all get raises, and they all get them according to a review process. You can’t just blanket-raise people.”
When a listener pointed out that’s not the way of the Kansas National Education Association, Hartman acknowledged the organization has a different policy.
“They have convinced the teachers they’re going to lose their jobs tomorrow, the schools are going to be locked any second and the children will not be in class,” he said.
“They have done a fairly proficient job at scaring teachers in the systems and parents into thinking the schools will be gone. That’s not the reality.”
Comments from Hartman on other education issues:
• On school choice, Hartman said a family’s address shouldn’t determine which school their children can go to.
“If you want people to have a chance to improve their environment educationally, it is time we give them some options other than going to the school that’s assigned to them by their address,” he said.
• Local school boards need to be involved in the system again, he said.
“The state needs to move aside,” he said, adding he believes the federal Department of Education is not needed.
• “Common Core has set the education system back, in my opinion,” Hartman said of the educational initiative that details what students should know in language arts and mathematics at each grade level.
• Vocational education is needed again, he said. He described his own experience in taking a shop class in high school in which he made a birdhouse.
“Later did I figure out the shop teacher was much smarter than I,” he said, explaining he had to figure the angle of the roof and the diameter of the hole for the bird to get through and square the walls of the birdhouse.
“What a simple way to teach math to a student — using his hands and his skills and his brain to figure out how to do this thing. Those days are gone.”