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SPOTLIGHT
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New perspective or dangerous omission?

Published on -10/9/2012, 10:31 AM

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Get ready for a test of what people now call thinking "outside the box."

In this rendering, you have people who don't work in an industry take a look at how it works -- and how it spends money -- without much in the way of knowledge about the final product that it is supposed to produce.

That's outside the box, all right.

Well, Gov. Sam Brownback has appointed a school efficiency task force to nose around the relatively inbred industry of public education and see if there are ways to save money while producing students employers will want to hire.

The task force? Mostly accountants, business people and a couple who have been on school boards, including a member of the State Board of Education.

The task force? Yes, there's nary a teacher or administrator or anyone who works from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. inside the public education silo.

This is either a great idea -- fresh eyes on how public schools work and spend their money -- or a horrible idea that would be akin to having experts at knitting assessing how the state operates its prisons.

But it is probably the best way -- or at least a way -- to generate ideas that we'd probably not get from educators, who have generations of tradition and a long list of practices and procedures in public education because "that's the way we've always done it."

For that reason alone, it probably makes sense to have people who aren't intimately involved in public education take a look.

Brownback tends to like putting fresh eyes on a problem -- presuming that the problem is public education costing the state a lot of money that is going to become scarce because of massive state income tax cuts approved last session.

(Remember, he started his life in government as Kansas secretary of agriculture ... that's right, agriculture, where silos were invented.)

So, while the education industry was aghast -- it tends to have rather delicate sensibilities -- that there aren't administrators and teachers on the task force, chances are that the panel is going to come up with ideas that are new and probably surprising.

Brownback has to be hoping that the panel takes a wide-ranging look and comes up with dozens of ideas to pare costs.

Hard to guess where the accountant-heavy panel will go with its ideas.

Is it cheaper to make all football uniforms green, so districts don't have to wash out the grass stains after every game; or is it cheaper to issue bonds for Astroturf fields so there are no grass stains?

Would school districts save money if a fourth-grader reading at grade level in March gets the rest of the year off?

Lots of ways to go, and the best hope is that the panel looks at everything, and then parents, school administrators and ultimately the Kansas Legislature look through its final report and crosses out the ideas that don't make sense or are "not the way we do things" for a good reason -- and seriously considers ideas that appear to make sense.

This might -- or might not -- be interesting.

Syndicated by Hawver News Co. of Topeka, Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver's Capitol Report. To learn more about this nonpartisan statewide political news service, visit www.hawvernews.com.

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