Butler County Times Gazette
  • Letter to the Editor: Legislature passes comprehensive finance, policy response

  • It is unfortunate that an editorial was published on April 7, 2014, with many inaccuracies and without having contacted anyone directly involved in the Legislative process to verify and correct misinformation that was disseminated.
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      Comment
  • It is unfortunate that an editorial was published on April 7, 2014, with many inaccuracies and without having contacted anyone directly involved in the Legislative process to verify and correct misinformation that was disseminated.
    The Kansas Senate (22-16) and Kansas House (63-57) passed a comprehensive finance and policy response to the Gannon Court decision that had been delivered on Day 50 of the 90 day Legislative Session. The Legislature was under a deadline to respond or risk a court action that would have resulted in restriction of local option budget money, teacher lay-offs, and other dire consequences. The school finance bill answers the Court’s concerns regarding equity before the deadline while adding $129 million in K-12 spending.
    The conference committee process involves a negotiating panel from each Chamber hammering out positions acceptable to each body to ultimately produce a bill that is a true blending of components from each Chamber’s positions. In this situation, impasse without a Legislative response was not an option based on the Court’s opinion because of the financial consequences to school districts, teachers, and Kansas students.
    As the Chair of the Senate Conference Committee on Senate Sub for HB 2506, I was tasked with presenting the Senate’s position in negotiations with House counterparts to produce a response that will satisfy the Court’s requirements, meet the deadline, and ultimately pass both Chambers. I was present and involved with the entire process, from start to finish and at every meeting, with the exception of the very brief conference committee referenced below and one meeting assembled only for the purpose of signing the report.
    The final negotiating phase of the conference committee was, indeed, conducted at 3:30 am. Conference Committee meetings were conducted literally round the clock from Friday evening through Sunday in order to reach agreement in time to meet deadlines necessary for school districts to conduct local option budget elections to implement increased authority granted in the bill.
    However, contrary to what was erroneously reported in the editorial, the meeting did not involve “adding” parts to the bill. After a tentative agreement had been previously reached, House negotiators indicated that, in order to pass their Chamber, two innovative tech education/community college pilot programs designed to increase the number of highly skilled and certificated students in Kansas needed to be removed. No other changes were made at that point from the previously agreed upon conference committee report.
    Previous negotiations with the House had necessitated removal of several key policy pieces passed by the Senate including a provision to halt Common Core implementation as well as a proposal to allow a capped reduction in the K-12 portion of local property taxes for private-school parents who pay property taxes for public education and then pay again to educate their children at the private school of their choice.
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    The process also produced additional increases in school funding that benefit all local districts:
    Base state aid per pupil increases from $3,838 to $3,852
    Increased base state aid per pupil used for local option budget from $4,433 to $4, 490
    Continuation of new facilities weighting for all bonds issued prior to July 1, 2014
    Restoration of the virtual weighting (but excludes virtual weighting from the Local Option Budget calculation)
    Authorizes school districts to increase LOB percentage from 30% to 33% if approved by taxpayers utilizing mail ballot election. Districts that have currently had an election to increase to 31% may increase the LOB to 33% by action of the local Board of Education for the 2014-2015 school year (election required to continue 33% for 2015-2016 year).
     
    Andover USD 385 was hit particularly hard by the initial school finance proposals that would have devastated the excellent virtual school program provided by that district. I met several times with virtual school representatives and had valuable input from our local superintendents via phone calls and/or emails. Ultimately, those proposed cuts were not adopted, so the potentially devastating consequences to those virtual programs will not happen. Virtual programs offer an innovative choice for parents to select an educational option that works best for their children and are successfully serving children who have special needs and a myriad of unique situations, including victims of bullying.
    With the adoption of changes related to procedure for teacher due process, the Legislature’s focus was on protecting and sheltering children. I am thankful that our local districts are filled with amazing, caring and highly creative and competent teachers who earn high marks from students, parents, colleagues, administrators, and beyond. I was delighted to recognize and meet two of them at the Capitol being honored as Kansas Master Teachers. However, we are all aware of those cases where students have been harmed intellectually and/or physically by individuals who should not be in the teaching profession. The process to remove these individuals needed reform. The previous law gave special protections, unlike anything in the private sector.
    The local school boards develop contractual relationships with their teachers. This bill did not remove or nullify a teacher’s constitutional right to contract. It simply allows our locally elected school board members to act in a more effective and timely manner in order to provide protection for our children in the unfortunate and rare instance when a teacher is harming students.
    And, finally, “Drop Dead Day” of the session was Friday, April 4th. Months ago, as a surprise to my beautiful wife, I made reservations for a surprise 20th Anniversary trip. She is the joy of my life and has the primary responsibility for our six children while I spend months away at session in Topeka. The trip was booked months ago with a few days margin. Never before in my history with the Legislature has the regular part of session run into the late night/early morning extended negotiation that is quite characteristic of the veto session. I stayed until 3:30 am on Sunday morning to continue to work to produce the best possible outcome for Kansas’ students, knowing that I had a flight leaving Wichita at 6 am and knowing that my one vote would not affect the final result of the Senate vote (22-16). My first priorities are to serve God and to love and cherish my wife and family, all of whom also make major sacrifices in allowing me to serve in Topeka. I think the families and voters of this district understand and share those values.
    Page 3 of 3 - Senator Ty Masterson

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