On April 2, 2012 the City of Leavenworth holds elections for school board positions.
To the editor:
On April 2, 2012 the City of Leavenworth holds elections for school board positions. Does this election matter? Why should you vote?
The Leavenworth School District seems to be in crisis. This matters, whether you have children in the system or not. It affects you economically because a good school system is a basic requirement for Leavenworth to be the type of community in which we all want to live.
Whether for economic growth or quality of life, good schools are key. Leavenworth has the potential to grow and become a true destination of choice for both businesses and individuals. If we work to provide a welcoming, high-quality environment we can succeed as a community.
I've looked, in great detail, at some key performance indicators I am led to ask; "Is the current administration providing the leadership that the students and taxpayers of this district desperately need?"
Before making your decision on April 2, please examine the following data extracts that compare Leavenworth, Shawnee Mission, and statewide Kansas averages for the period of 2005-2012. All of this data comes from the Kansas Policy Institute's website www.kansaspolicy.org.
In Leavenworth, expenditures per pupil have increased by more than twice the rate of the Kansas average. We're spending nearly 50 percent more per student than the rest of the state. Should we not expect an educational outcome at least as good as the rest of Kansas?
Local taxes provide most of the revenue for any school districts budget. The local tax burden for Leavenworth residents increased at a rate 3½ times that of the average Kansas. This money comes from those who own property in the city and from renters, whose rent includes the high property taxes. In case you're curious, look at the data on the web, this is not because of the recently passed bond issue. All districts have capital improvements and all districts service debt. USD 453 is no exception to this rule. Regardless, should we not expect improved performance for these expenditures?
These increases occurred while enrollment in Leavenworth schools steadily declined. Enrollment in Leavenworth is down 400 students and the rate of decline is nearly three times the rate of the Kansas average. Remember, taxes are up over three times the rate of the rest of the state. Does it make sense to spend this much more money with a declining student base?
Even with enrollment down, employment in the district has increased at a rate three times the Kansas average and almost all of this increase was in overhead (non-teaching positions increased, in real terms, by 143 positions). Note that in Kansas enrollment increased by 3.4 percent while staff grew by 3.0 percent. In Leavenworth, enrollment declined by 9.7 percent while staff grew by 18.5 percent virtually all of the increase was in non-teaching positions which increased by 32.9 percent:
Student/teacher and student/employee ratios tell us that Leavenworth employment ratios compared to student populations are seriously out of line with the rest of the state. Note: In this case, a decrease in the ratio reflects an increase in employees and does not, in all cases, reflect a decrease in enrollment.
With the huge increases in budget and staff, student performance in reading for 4th and 8th graders has declined in the last three years and improvements in 11th grade proficiency has increased at a rate barely equal to that of the state, and, in real terms, is still much lower than the state average. This is true even though we are spending 50 percent more than the state average per student. Imagine 50 percent more spending to get a performance increase that is worse than or, at best, equal to that of the rest of the state:
Are you, as a taxpayer, getting your money's worth?
We have excellent teachers and we have excellent facilities. We have, to be kind, mediocre results. Does USD 453 performance support growth in the City of Leavenworth?
Is the purpose of USD 453 to educate students or is it to provide jobs to those who already have educations? After examining the employment statistics, I have to say this is a fair question.
My final question to the taxpayers of Leavenworth is this. A school board has two primary functions. To set policy that accomplishes the district goals and supervise the superintendent. Is the current board performing these tasks to the community's satisfaction?
Whether your answer is yes or no, please vote on April 2, 2013. This community, the taxpayers, and the students of USD 453 need you to show up at your polling station.