By Madelynn Coldiron
Two Oldham County school board members and their state representative found they had one major item in common when they sat down for a meeting as part of KSBA’s Advocacy Conference, Feb. 22-23.
“You know what we’re here about?” Larry Dodson, a member of both the local and KSBA boards, asked rhetorically.
“Money,” responded Rep. David Osborne (R-Prospect). “It’s what everybody else is concerned about.”
Later, when board member Walt Schumm asked Osborne what help the Oldham school board could offer him, the representative’s answer echoed their own priority:
“Find some money,” he said.
Dodson and Schumm were among the 125 school board members and superintendents who participated in the conference, many of them fanning out to meet with their lawmakers. The two-day event kicked off with a legislative reception that attracted more than 200 board members, superintendents and legislators. A legislative update with guest speakers preceded meetings with senators and representatives on the second day. Many participants also attended morning committee meetings and afternoon proceedings in House and Senate chambers.
The meeting Dodson and Schumm had with Osborne ran like a textbook example of advocacy. Armed both with information and talking points from KSBA’s legislative agenda and their experiences in their own school district, they hit the major issues on their list. The tone on each side was a blend of friendly and businesslike.
Like the other participating board members and superintendents, they were prepared for their visits to the Capitol by KSBA Governmental Relations Director Shannon Stiglitz, who reviewed the major points in the association’s legislative platform during a breakfast meeting. Noting that lawmakers would be zeroing in on the biennial budget, she said, “Your visit right now is perfect timing for us to get changes to the budget that we need.”
Board members and superintendents also heard presentations from House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins (D-Sandy Hook) and longtime political and governmental figure Terry McBrayer, who works as a lobbyist.
Both said the 2012 session stands out for what it lacks: money. Interestingly, both listed identical top three issues for the session: the budget, with attendant cuts; redistricting; and expanded gaming.
McBrayer told board members the tight budget deprives lawmakers of the flexibility to negotiate on issues.
“The state is broke …. When you’re broke, it’s no fun –arguments intensify, attitudes are different and the atmosphere has a negative overtone to it. And that is what you’ll find in the halls today if you visit various legislators,” he said.
Adkins noted that “this is the most bare-bones budget I have seen in my 25 years of service.” While the state’s revenue growth is much improved, federal stimulus money is gone and the state’s economy hasn’t grown fast enough to cover what is now a $300 million shortfall that lawmakers are trying to fill, he said.
Adkins discussed his Kentucky Green Schools Initiative, part of House Bill 255, saying the program it sets up is timely since it will save schools money. That legislation calls for a pool of loan money that districts could tap for energy efficiency/conservation projects that would be initiated through performance contracting.
In broaching funding issues with Osborne later, Schumm presented the lawmaker with an itemized list showing the total $4.5 million in savings Oldham County Schools had identified. “To say that we’re taking the taxpayers’ money frivolously doesn’t hold,” he said.
Schumm and Dodson also explained the need for contingency funds, which some have interpreted as excess money to be tapped. If that money is taken away, Schumm said, “You’re going to put a lot of districts on the brink.”
The two school board members also raised the topic of re-evaluating the SEEK formula, but Osborne noted that there are too many districts that are satisfied with the current system. However, he did indicate agreement that districts that had maxed out their ability to add a nickel tax should be provided with “some additional equalization on top of that to help them out.”
Other topics covered in the session included expanded gaming, improving the tribunal process for certified employees and a promising new reading program Oldham County Schools implemented.
The two Oldham County board members were able to alert Osborne to an issue he said he had been unaware of: the inadequate bandwidth to support school technology. Schumm used the analogy of an information technology highway, saying there were six lanes to support electronic traffic in Oldham County, but the road narrowed to two lanes by the time it reached Frankfort.
Dodson said “the system is jammed” when too many students use electronic devices in a school. The cuts in school technology funding, Dodson said, “are going to be a killer in getting the infrastructure” to keep that from happening. In the long run, he said, the increasing use of electronic textbooks will save districts money.
“I’ve never even thought about it being a problem,” Osborne said.