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November Election: An opportunity to support public schools
Please register to vote by Oct. 16 to participate in Nov. 6 General Election.
As many OneMa1ze employees and community members already know, public education is an issue for which I advocate personally and professionally. There are fewer things I believe in more than the opportunities public education provides for our students, our community, and our future; the foundation for social and economic stability and growth for Kansas and our country..
The Nov. 6 General Election will be a big one for Maize USD 266 and Kansas public schools, and much is at stake in that election. Among the most important considerations is the need for continued equitable and adequate school funding that is, at minimum, "suitable” for the children of Kansas. With its current funding formula, the state is close to a resolution once it accounts for inflation as directed by the Kansas Supreme Court. This directive is based on a recent third-party study that found Kansas schools to be extremely efficient in its operations, yet still not funded at a level suitable to meet educational goals.
Still, there are many improvements we could continue to make for the sake of our students and community that would bolster support for all. These improvements relate to instruction and social-emotional needs. Adding or significantly enhancing programs is quite a challenge when we remain in recovery from a decade of cuts and freezes and remain funded at about the same level as we were a decade ago. Meanwhile, costs for personnel, utilities, supplies, fuel and other necessities around us continue to rise. Schools today are not the same as they were just a few decades ago, with increased accountability and a much higher number of students with greater health and educational needs. Our educators and employees support students who are at-risk, in special education, encounter bullying, and regularly navigate a host of challenges tied to social media. These challenges take the right employees, time, care, and training to tackle.
Many other education-related issues are at play in the Nov. 6 election. This includes the ability for Maize USD 266 and any other Kansas school district to pursue future facility needs necessary to accommodate rapid enrollment growth. As we continue to grow at the rate we are, this issue is an important one. As you may have read in the September Connections , I am forming and leading a Facility Planning Committee as we plan for current and projected growth. Our district has grown about 250 students since last year alone, nearly 500 students in only two years. Maize USD 266 and other Kansas school districts face a cap from the state on total bond issue dollars districts statewide could pursue, in a sense pitting districts against each other for that limited opportunity for school buildings our students need. Without the state's green light, districts like ours would be unable to take a potential bond issue to local community members for consideration via a vote. Alternatives to adding the needed permanent space include overcrowding of current space or installing temporary portable structures, which are both unsafe and financially inefficient.
Maize USD 266 also stands to receive less bond state aid as it has in the past. This means bond issues will cost our OneMa1ze community more money than it would have prior to recent legislation. The bond issue voters approved in June 2015 included about 42 percent state aid, funds collected in property-tax wealthier communities. If we passed a bond issue tomorrow, Maize Schools would only receive 18 percent state aid, creating a much larger burden on local taxpayers and very detrimental to communities with a high percentage of residential property, such as ours.
As we head into the election season, please do not rely on me or any other single source of information to inform your election decisions. Seek out alternative perspectives and work to understand the facts behind important issues. It is difficult but important to filter out the propaganda and understand long-term outcomes to what each candidate advocates for or against.
I simply ask that you please make sure you are registered to vote and plan a way to cast your ballot in the upcoming election. Please note that the deadline to register to vote in the Nov. 6 election is Oct. 16. I invite you to visit our election page with general voting resources. I have included a link below to that and to an editable Sedgwick County Advance Voting application that enables you to vote by mail from the convenience of your home at a time that works for your schedule.
Thank you for exercising your civic responsibility.
Dr. Chad Higgins, Superintendent of Schools