Save the lecture, give us the cash


November 4, 2015 - 12:00 AM

Sometimes, you just want the money.
It’s all the vogue these days for wealthy donors to give large sums in efforts to improve the education of our youth.
Trouble is, the strings attached are enough to strangle the giant Gulliver.
Mark Zuckerberg, Bill and Melinda Gates, the Walmart Foundation, are just a few (corporations are people, too, you know) who have gone beyond generous to improve K-12 education. Some purport charter schools as the answer while others tout enhanced curriculums.
Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, and his wife, Priscella Chan, a pediatrician, are planning a school in the San Francisco area geared toward low-income students that also provides free health care and an on-site clinic.
This is the second experimental school the young couple have founded. Their first was a school where students were enrolled not by age, but by ability.

NOT TO DIMINISH the importance of inspiring curriculums, but in Kansas, specifically Iola, Kansas, we could do with some cold, hard cash to put toward crumbling infrastructure.
This year, for instance, it rained on the first day of school. At Lincoln Elementary,  students found buckets spread around classrooms to catch the drips.
In his farewell piece in the New York Times, longtime columnist Joe No-cera, who’s written extensively on education, noted that broken down buildings do send the powerful, and tragic, message to students that society doesn’t put a priority on their education.
A well-kept facility, on the other hand, boosts morale not only among students, but also teachers and administrators.
In all likelihood, Iola will not see a new school for many years. With the overwhelming defeat of the 2014 bond issue, we also lost our chance for significant state funding to go toward construction of a new school and retirement of the bonds. At the time of the election we could expect a 51 percent state match. If a school bond issue were passed today the state’s contribution — which is figured by a district’s relative wealth — would be 36 percent.
On that specific bond issue, the 51 percent match would have equated to $41 million of which $25 million would have gone toward construction and $16 million applied to the bonds.
Under today’s formula, we would receive almost  $29 million for the same package; a difference of about $12 million.
For local taxpayers who thought the tax burden would have been too great to support new schools in 2014, the prospect for their support becomes an even greater challenge.
Meanwhile, the needs of the district’s aging buildings continue to outpace resources.
“We’re not meeting our needs now, much less hope to have funds for a rainy day,” said Jack Koehn, USD 257 superintendent of schools.
An ongoing fear? That more than one school’s heating and cooling system — all past their expiration dates — calls it quits at the same time.
Their modus operandi? Deferred maintenance.
For our kids, that translates to a diminished educational experience.
— Susan Lynn

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