By MARY CLARKIN
Special to The Hays Daily News
HUTCHINSON -- Gov. Sam Brownback, running for re-election and under fire about school funding and policies, said he regrets the adversarial relationship with teachers.
"Everybody loves and appreciates teachers," Brownback said during an hour-long visit Wednesday morning to the Hutchinson Community College campus.
"You guys are the ones who transform people's lives," he said, recalling his own ag education teacher who "kept pulling me along."
Brownback visited two industrial education buildings at HCC, with Secretary of Labor Lana Gordon and Secretary of the Department for Children and Families Phyllis Gilmore in the entourage.
News of the visit was not widely circulated, but approximately 25 supporters of teachers were at the site wearing red T-shirts. Some also wore Davis/Docking buttons for the Democratic ticket of Rep. Paul Davis and Jill Docking challenging Brownback and Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer in November.
"All of us are here to let the governor know we have not forgotten," said Dave Kirkbride, the Kansas National Education Association UniServ director for the suburban Wichita area.
Brownback pushed for and signed legislation this year that contained court-ordered funding increases for public schools. But it also repealed due process for teachers, eased licensure requirements so districts could hire teachers who have not had the teacher education block in college, and enabled companies to receive tax breaks by giving to private school scholarships, Kirkbride pointed out.
KNEA recently sued the state in Shawnee County District Court over that legislation, asserting it violated state law because it wasn't confined to one subject.
Brownback saw the red T-shirts when his vehicle arrived. The protesters stood silently, each raising a hand.
Brownback walked over and shook their hands before entering the building.
The Brownback Administration has promoted technical education, including state-paid tuition for some college classes taken by high school students.
"With the involvement and support of our secondary partners, Hutchinson Community College has offered nearly 15,500 credit hours to 2,494 high school students from 58 high schools," said HCC President Carter File.
"We appreciate the support from the state to further the education and family-strengthening opportunities here in Hutchinson.
"Leading that effort ... Gov. Sam Brownback," said File, introducing Brownback.
"You guys have done a model job," Brownback said, praising HCC and Hutchinson USD 308.
The two school campuses are neighbors and have embraced technical education programs.
The Brownback Administration also launched the Jobs for America's Graduates program in Kansas, part of a nationwide program to help at-risk students graduate from high school and get on a career or college path.
Justina Smith, JAG specialist at Newton High School, said 12 seniors in the program in Newton last year all graduated. Currently, 41 students are in JAG in Newton, including high school junior Ana Ochoa. She spoke about how it has made her feel confident about going to college.
Mike Gibson, executive vice president of Associated General Contractors of Kansas -- calling itself the chamber of commerce for the construction industry -- took a turn at the podium. He praised Brownback and said Kansas is one of the fastest growing states in terms of construction industry.
A check by the Hutchinson News of the most recent figures of Associated General Contractors of America showed Kansas ranked 17th in the nation in growth in construction industry jobs during the preceding 12 months.
Associated General Contractors of Kansas' political action committee has donated previously to Democrats, including Davis, but it generally gives to Republicans and is behind Brownback's income tax cuts. The association's website called it "simply incorrect" to blame the tax cuts as the reason for plummeting revenue receipts.
Brownback walked into a few industrial classes. In one class, former over-the-road truck driver Lori Goodman explained why she was taking training to become a bio-medical technician, capable of working on equipment in a hospital.
"I think it's good job security," Goodman said, pleased with the hands-on learning available at HCC.
Originally, the governor's office intended the venue touting technical education to be Hutchinson USD 308 campus.
The school district pointed out visitors taking photos including students have to secure permission from parents. That policy applies across the board, whether it's the United Way or an elected official, according to USD 308 Superintendent Shelly Kiblinger.
The college does not have the same policy, making it easier to schedule the stop there.
USD 308 is one of the plaintiffs in the lingering school finance lawsuit against the state. The Supreme Court told the Legislature in March to fix inequities in funding, and the bottom line for USD 308 after the 2014 fix was a net gain of approximately $72,000, with the extra dollars in capital outlay.
Still pending in court is a decision on whether basic state aid for schools is adequate. If more funding is ordered, the Legislature could be faced with the challenge of providing more money for schools in 2015, even as tax collections have sagged. The state's bond rating was lowered this year, partly because the state could face a revenue shortfall in 2015.
Brownback's staff said it was an official visit.