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Economy, Jobs Take Center Stage at SHESC’s 32nd Annual Legislative Luncheon

On Wednesday, area educators shared their concerns about a challenging labor market and general economic questions with state legislators at the 32nd annual Legislative Luncheon in Salina.

Roger Stumpf, USD 306 Southeast of Saline Superintendent, shared his perspective at the event. He said the struggles schools are experiencing in filling open positions goes beyond economic struggles; other major factors are criticism, scrutiny, and proposals for new laws from legislators that Stumpf said shows a lack of respect for educators and creates “crisis levels” of retirements and resignations.

“They’re feeling under attack. Educators are no longer feeling respected,” Stumpf said. “It’s lost its luster. People don’t want to sign up for that.”

About 40 participants attended Smoky Hill Education Service Center’s Legislative Luncheon on November 10, including state legislators, SHESC staff, district administrators, and school board members from across the region.

An annual tradition since SHESC’s founding, the luncheon gives educators an opportunity to communicate directly with government leaders and for those leaders to learn more about current concerns in the realm of education.

Seven state officials participated in the event, as follows: Rep. Suzi Carlson, R-District 64; Rep. Clarke Sanders, R-District 69; Rep. Mike Dodson, R-District 67; Sen. Rick Wilborn, R-District 35 and Vice President of the Senate; Rep. Steven Johnson, R-District 108; Rep. Ken Rahjes, R-District 110; and Rep. Jim Minnix, R-District 118.

Chris Moddelmog, SHESC Executive Director, praised educators and legislators alike for taking the time out of their busy schedules to attend the luncheon.

"The fact that you’re here today says that education is a priority to you,” he said.

Following the comments from Superintendent Stumpf about staffing struggles, Rep. Sanders said that it’s an issue stretching beyond education.

“Just drive up and down the street. Everyone’s looking for help,” he said. “It’s not unique to education.”

Rep. Rahjes also added that social media and political polarization hasn’t helped with retaining educators. After encountering a politically charged story or having a political discussion, he said that most people have an immediate and visceral reaction.

“We immediately want to do two things,” he said. “Be mad or be scared to death.”

Rep. Johnson said that retaining educators is proving to be a problem without easy solutions.

“It is everywhere and it is unfortunately going to persist,” he said. “I don’t think money is going to solve it.”

Rep. Minnix also encouraged individuals to act locally and not necessarily wait on action from the state to start finding and enacting solutions.

“In Kansas, if it snows you go get a shovel; that doesn’t happen in all states,” he said. “I think we can do better in Kansas and I would challenge everyone to be positive instead of pointing fingers.”

Ann Zimmerman, member of the USD 305 Salina School Board, encouraged the legislators to take an active role in discouraging those who may be driving a wedge between lawmakers and educators.

“If you hear those things, I urge you to stand up,” she said. “We are anti-bullying in the schools, but we don’t have anti-bullying in the legislature.”

Other topics of discussion included:

  • Ongoing prevention of COVID-19 spread in schools.
  • Expansion of Pre-K to more communities.
  • Learning loss during remote learning.
  • The best way to handle the current state budget surplus.
  • Helping to secure affordable housing and child care for families.
  • Tougher transportation laws as they relate to school bus safety.
  • Working toward full special education funding levels from state and federal sources.
  • Medicaid expansion in Kansas.
  • School board versus state legislature control of curriculum standards.

Rep. Dodson encouraged educators to continue to communicate with state legislators and express their concerns beyond the annual event of the luncheon.

“Educate those up in Topeka and let them know what life is like there in the districts,” he said.

Moddelmog closed the day by echoing that sentiment and adding: “I hope that events like these help with that education piece.”