FREE FALLING

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BOB WOELK
At the risk of becoming a serious columnist-two straight months dealing with non-humorous topics-I just can’t sit on my hands any longer. I must do some finger shaking and finger pointing.

This whole school-finance issue has become laughable. If only it weren’t so tragic.

Right from the start, allow me to point out the obvious: nobody likes to pay higher taxes. And, I am perhaps the biggest nobody around, so I am included in that group.

I recognize, however, that our Kansas legislators have basically created a smoke screen, passed the buck, dropped the ball and (fill in your favorite cliché here; feel free to mix metaphors).

Despite patting themselves on their collective back for having fulfilled a pledge not to raise sales or personal income taxes, they have left the door wide open for increased property taxes, perhaps the most unfair taxation of all.

Local option budgets allow most school districts to increase taxes without the nod of the state. If you don’t think those will be maxed out, I have some great swamp land in downtown Wichita I’d love to sell you.

I know, I know. Many Kansans are on fixed incomes. I hate that misnomer. I am on a fixed income as well, and so are our schools.

Most of the retired persons who make this fixed-income claim have homes that are paid for, and their children are long gone from the house. They receive help with medical bills, and let’s not forget those American Association of Retired Persons discounts at restaurants and motels.

I recognize the cost of living is high for them, and I understand the frustration of too much month at the end of the Social Security check. But, younger families are also struggling. Our older citizens are not unique in trying to make every dollar stretch.

I continue to contend, however, that a statewide sales tax is the most equitable way to increase revenue for schools.

Casino gambling won’t do it. We never saw much income from the lottery, which was supposed to be our gravy train a decade or two ago. We certainly can’t depend on an upturn in the economy to land education a windfall.

Our legislature has a dismal record in supporting schools during the past decade or two.

Conventional wisdom at the Statehouse says schools can simply trim the fat, tighten their belts, suck it up and (again, place favorite cliché here).

I’m sure we could all find some waste in our education waistlines; some pet projects could be eliminated (might we find that trend taught by another institution located in the northeastern part of the state?).

In general, though, I would have to say our belts are pretty tight. I could offer all sorts of examples where classroom budgets have been slashed, programs gutted, departments cauterized and (place appropriate slicing word here).

Class sizes are increasing, causing teachers to spend more time managing the classroom and less time teaching.

Talk around the Kansas coffee shops is that more money won’t solve our schools’ problems. On a surface level, this is certainly true. Throwing unlimited amounts of cash at education is not the answer. But neither is completely shutting schools out as our lawmakers chose to do this session.

How about this for an analogy? Members of a young family try to keep their heads above water. They have a car that works, manage to make the house payments on time and can pay the baby-sitter for an occasional night out. But unexpected expenses are bound to pop up, so they can never quite get over the hump.

One day, an uncle dies and leaves them enough money to pay a few bills and begin a small savings account for their children’s college down the road. Because it is not a huge amount of money, they spend it wisely on things like school clothes for the children or groceries. For a brief moment, they have caught up enough to function like a family should.

Schools can get by with what they have. But for a school system like Hillsboro’s that has been on the cutting edge of technology in the past, lack of adequate funding is causing a hardware lag. Our students are beginning to fall behind.

Three teacher positions were reduced at one point this year, and though through attrition no teachers will lose their jobs this year, the positions will be filled internally, effectively increasing the student load on a number of teachers.

Like our fictional family, reasonable increases in aid for schools spread over several years would solve the problem better than a huge increase once every 10 years or so. The question is, where are we going to find our dead uncle?

* * *

Just for fun, a few things to ponder, courtesy of comedian George Carlin and an e-mail from my sister:

1. Can you cry under water?

2. How important do people have to be before they are considered assassinated instead of just murdered?

3. If money doesn’t grow on trees then why do banks have branches?

4. Why do you have to “put your two cents in”…but it’s only a “penny for your thoughts”? Where’s that extra penny going to?

5. Once you’re in heaven, do you get stuck wearing the clothes you were buried in for eternity?

6. Why does a round pizza come in a square box?

7. How is it that we put man on the moon before we figured out it would be a good idea to put wheels on luggage?

8. Why is it that people say they “slept like a baby” when babies wake up like every two hours?

9. If a deaf person has to go to court, is it still called a hearing?

10. Why are you IN a movie, but you are ON television?

11. Why do people pay to go up tall buildings and then put money in binoculars to look at things on the ground?

12. How come we choose from just two people for President and 50 for Miss America?

13. If a 911 operator has a heart attack on the job, whom does he/she call?

14. I signed up for an exercise class and was told to wear loose-fitting clothing. If I HAD any loose-fitting clothing, would I have signed up in the first place?

15. Wouldn’t it be nice if whenever we messed up our life we could simply press “Ctrl Alt Delete” and start all over?

16. Remember…if the world didn’t suck, we’d all fall off.

17. Why is it that our children can’t read a Bible in school, but they can in prison?

18. If raising kids was going to be easy, it never would have started with something called labor!

19. Brain cells come and brain cells go, but fat cells live forever!

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