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Friday, Oct. 19, 2012

Kansas school efficiency group seeks anonymous tips

Brownback’s office sets up line where inefficiencies can be reported anonymously.

The Kansas City Star

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SEEKING TIPS To report inefficiencies in your school district, go to governor.ks.gov/ efficiency.

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Frustrated by wasteful spending in your school district?

A Kansas efficiency task force is looking for whistle-blowers.

“Kansans who interact with the state’s K-12 educational system and have examples of inefficiencies that they have witnessed or experienced now can go online to share their firsthand experiences with the Governor’s school efficiency task force,” according to a release sent by the Gov. Sam Brownback’s office late Wednesday.

The anonymous system was set up Wednesday as a way to generate ideas from those inside or outside the system who might feel awkward for snitching on their boss or their kid’s teacher. Brownback also added a school superintendent to the task force.

Task force chairman Ken Willard acknowledged that the widespread approach is different. But, he said, education affects everybody.

“Everybody has an opinion about it. And some of those opinions are not as informed as others, but people need to be heard,” he said. “I think it’s a healthy exercise.”

He understands why school officials might feel some trepidation.

“But I think it’s good to hear from as many people as possible. I think it’s good to be as transparent as possible,” he said.

The concept isn’t exactly unprecedented, said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat. Legislative auditors often use anonymous surveys with employees when they examine state agencies.

“You’re not going to get the real whistle-blower unless they have a guarantee of anonymity,” he said.

The process will work, he said, as long as the task force verifies the accusations and gives districts an opportunity to respond.

Mark Tallman, lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, agreed.

“There’s nothing wrong with trying to collect information. It’s just important to make sure allegations are checked out,” he said.

The task force met earlier this month to discuss ways to stretch state dollars further. The Kansas Policy Institute presented a report detailing how in some cases, multiple school districts serve fewer than 4,000 students in one county. Each district has a separate busing, payroll, computer and cafeteria services.

On Wednesday, Brownback also announced the inclusion of a new member, Iola schools Superintendent Brian Pekarek.

The 10-member group had faced sharp criticism from Kansas Democrats who argued no teachers or administrators were included on the panel.

Willard said the group includes several members with school budgeting experience and will hear from a broad spectrum of educators.

Tallman said his organization has formed its own efficiency task force. The group plans to present its findings to the governor’s task force in November.

“School districts have as much interest as the legislature to be good stewards of public dollars,” Tallman said.

The governor’s task force is set to meet again Nov. 9 in Topeka.

To reach Dawn Bormann, call 816-234-7704 or send email to dbormann@kcstar.com.

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