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SPOTLIGHT
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The education table dance

Published on -7/8/2014, 9:10 AM

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Ever been to one of those bars where there's a two-drink minimum order? It usually means there's a band or strippers for the entertainment, and it generally means the show is a good one.

Well, they're not talking about music or pole dancers, but the state's new K-12 Student Performance and Efficiency Commission that will meet this summer and fall might be the most entertaining -- and important -- commission we've seen in the Statehouse for a while.

The nine members are assigned to study how the state's school districts operate, how well they educate our students and how economically they can do that.

And, they're supposed to come up with ideas that will make schools better and cheaper and at some point able to survive what likely are to be cuts in revenue from the state in the next few years.

That's a big job, and it's going to be difficult because the state's nearly 300 unified school districts are insular; their members are elected by voters in those districts who realize schools are important -- but expensive.

While it's easy for folks who don't have children in public schools to look at the numbers and decide there have to be economies possible to reduce the state contribution to education and maybe to reduce the local school district property tax, there are districts in sparsely populated western Kansas where the local school system is a large employer -- which keeps the gas stations, the grocery stores and a raft of other businesses, well, in business.

There are some relatively obvious suggestions by that commission to save money. One, of course, is to put districts together, maybe reducing the 293 now to some smaller number.

That sounds logical, but figure for a minute, which nearby school district do you want to merge with, and how long do you want those kids to spend on a bus getting to their new combined school? By the time your local school officials and teachers know your kids, do you want to start over?

And, do you want the administrative jobs and such moved out of your town?

There are heavily populated counties in the state with several school districts. Think they want to combine? In some metropolitan areas, melding school districts probably will mean three or four superintendents looking for work -- or competing for their jobs all over again.

Rope-climb contest, anyone?

And, even simpler, do you think they want to combine at the administration/management level while retaining the old district sports and debate teams? Who has final say on mascots, colors and even cheerleader uniforms?

The melding of districts is like a shotgun marriage; we're thinking if the study commission delves into that apparently simple way to save money, well, the premiums for fire insurance on their homes is likely to rise.

This might be interesting, with members of the panel diverse enough in geography they'll each bring their local interests to the discussion, played out before the K-12 education industry -- and yes, it is an industry, with labor and management and big and generally tax-dollar produced budgets at stake.

The money side, while the most visible, is just a part of this project. Improving public education statewide is the other goal, to make sure the money spent on K-12 produces the smartest kids possible, the kids who are the key to the state's economy in the future.

Sound like a committee that could be the focus of a lot of Kansans this fall?

We're thinking, if they just move the meetings out of the Statehouse, they could demand a two-drink minimum.

Syndicated by Hawver News Co. of Topeka, Martin Hawver is publisher

of Hawver's Capitol Report.

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