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  • Last modified 1019 days ago (Feb. 4, 2016)

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Topeka's cucumber crazies

Look out Marion County — state representative John Bradford of Lansing wants to combine small local school districts, supposedly to save state government $170 million over the next 10 years.

In place of Marion County’s five districts, Bradford’s bill, HB 2504, proposes just one, operating out of one office and with one superintendent. Ownership of all of the county’s school buildings and other assets would shift to the new “realigned school district.” It’s likely an existing district will be picked to take over the operation of all five, running all of them from one location.

The bill doesn’t propose closing any schools. It’s just more cost-effective, Bradford says, to combine the administrative functions of five districts into a countywide operation.

Wrapping our minds around millions and billions of dollars is tough for average Joes just trying to get by, but there’s something we do understand: Cucumbers.

So grab a tape measure and head out to the produce section of one of our fine local grocery stores, and let’s figure out how much the state is really going to save by combining our local districts, cucumber-style.

You’re looking for 10-inch cucumbers. You need 10 of them. Be prepared for odd stares and glares from other customers, but your task demands that you measure carefully and fill your quota.

Take those cucumbers home (after paying for them, of course), lay them out on a counter, and line them up side-to-side. If you’re a bit obsessive-compulsive, it’s OK to take a few moments to make certain the ends line up. We’re in no rush.

Now take a good look at your cucumbers, all 100 inches of them. They represent all the money the state spends in a year on local education. They’re green, just like money, so it shouldn’t be too hard to imagine.

For this next step, where we pretend to be Bradford, you’ll need your tape measure again, and a sharp knife. Take one cucumber and cut a slice exactly three-eighths of a inch off one end. If you possess the dexterity and precision, use a flamboyant ninja-style chop, just like Bradford. Put your trimmed cucumber back in line.

Pick up and hold the remaining slice. Look at it closely, look at all your lined-up cucumbers, then look again at the slice.

Congratulations — you now understand about how much Bradford’s radical proposal will save the state annually. Impressive, isn’t it?

So Bradford and his cronies get their paltry sliver of cucumber, and what do the people of 76 counties forced into countywide districts get in return?

At the very least, uncertainty, confusion, and strife will ensue. Bradford’s bill is far too vague, opening the door to all manner of speculation, including that of school closures and economic decay. We’re familiar in this county with that legacy of consolidation, and who is to say history won’t repeat itself under a one-district model?

We’re accustomed to local boards running local schools for local communities that take great pride in being unique. Past consolidations weren’t easily accepted; how will forced realignment be received?

There’s just one sentence in HB 2504 that addresses the fate of local school boards. Plain and simple, it translates as, “School boards? We’ll figure those out later.” Would we have five or one? Who would be represented? What exactly would they control? Trust us, they say. Don’t worry about details that matter. Let’s pass the bill now, and we’ll tell you sometime next year how we’re going to do it, they say.

Let’s be perfectly clear: This bill isn’t about better education for our children. It’s about the state keeping more of its money to deal with its self-inflicted gunshot wound of disastrous tax cuts that have the state budget hemorrhaging badly and the economy trailing our neighboring states in employment, wages, business establishment, and population growth.

It’s about the disdain the governor and legislators in power have for public education and local control. Because they want people to be able to choose private schools or online education, they’re taking choice and money away from rural communities that want independent public schools.

Consolidation of some administrative functions could make sense. Voluntary consolidation of some or all of our county districts may also make sense at some point. This bill, crafted as it is, doesn’t make sense for anyone other than the state.

Meanwhile, the legislature passed its first new law last week, designating Cowley County as the stone bridge capital of Kansas. Perhaps the next one they should consider is designating the statehouse the nut capital of Kansas. It would have to be nuts, because they sure don’t know how to deal with cucumbers.

— DAVID COLBURN

Last modified Feb. 4, 2016

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