Great Bend superintendent: Bill ‘short-sighted’ and ‘bad policy’
By STAN UNRUH
Post News Network
GREAT BEND — USD 428 Superintendent Dr. Tom Vernon has spent a lifetime working in education — and is disappointed with what the Kansas Legislature did this weekend.
Lawmakers approved adding approximately $129 million into state funding for poorer school districts — but also contained policy changes that have educators up in arms. The compromise bill now awaits Gov. Sam Brownback’s signature.
“Their action, in terms of removing pre-K-12 teachers, librarians and counselors from the due process statutes, is very short-sighted and simply bad public policy,” he said. “Those statutes were passed as a result of shenanigans perpetrated on teachers in the past. I would think that eliminating the effects of those statutes would have demanded committee hearings and public debate before the Legislature acted.
“Sadly, that was not the case.”
He said due process, commonly referred to as tenure, does no mean a teacher has a “job for life.” Instead, it simply means a district must have a reason to non-renew a teacher past the probationary stage and be able to convince a hearing officer that decision was correct.
“The process is time consuming and difficult,” Vernon said, “but it should be.”
Last summer, Vernon told the school board in Great Bend he would retire at the end of this school year — and now he is left wondering what the future hold for the district he leave behind.
“First, this isn’t law yet. It has to be signed by the governor and, if enough teachers/supporters lobby him, maybe he can veto the policy sections of the bill,” Vernon said. “Also, I think it must pass a judicial challenge. I think the Kansas Constitution prohibits policy items to be included in appropriations bills. We will see.”
The proposal puts the Great Bend district in a state of uncertainty.
“If this law goes into effect on July 1, we really don’t know how we will deal with teachers contractually. We don’t know whether our three pages on due process in the negotiated agreement will be in effect … or will the new law trump that?” he said. “We don’t know whether we will have to negotiate with individual teachers or whether we can negotiate with a group. We simply do not know. What I can tell you is that we have no grand plan to take advantage of anyone. We will continue to work with and value our district’s greatest asset — our faculty and staff.”
At first blush, Vernon expected the effect of the bill to be a 3 mill decrease in the tax levy, but approximately $130,000 less in general fund revenue because of a decrease in at-risk weightings.