a lil’ webex for ya, Gov?

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon held a WebEx/con-call this past Monday evening to push his tax credit reform package. (If you’re not sure what state tax credits are…think TIF money. While some might argue the point we believe it apt as the return is exactly that of TIF monies given to say…oh, Power & Light. Yep – zero return.)

Though the Astas are schooled at an institution relatively immune to Missouri’s financial vagaries (think Something Day), we offered to sit and kibitz with Our Friend while he had Jay Nixon on the phone.

The Governor read a prepared speech emphasizing the fact that unabated tax credits, especially given the current economy, were beyond wasteful; they were immoral. He offered a few examples – the State of Virginia spends about $80 million annually in tax credits on historical preservation. Missouri spends $160 million annually on the same sort of old stuff.

What – it takes $160 million a year to preserve the Lewis and Clark trail? Why? Are we re-blazing that trail every year? And please don’t try to tell me the upkeep on Truman’s homestead runs into real money; I live 20 minutes north of the place and Missouri is still whitewashing the building as Tom and Huck did back in the day. I also refuse to believe that Sam Clemmons’ old place needs upkeep, much less Jesse James’ grave.

On the other hand, I’ve been to Monticello. That place is pristine; you can readily imagine yourself quilling drafts of the Declaration of Independence (between visits to the slave quarters.) Then there’s Jamestown. Manassas. The Underground Railroad. Mt. Vernon. And on and on and on, all for half the cost of Missouri’s maintaining a dirt trail.

However it appears that the state Republicans don’t believe tax credits need much trimming. You know, much like the GOP doesn’t believe financial institutions –especially those “too big to fail” – need any more regulation. Much like The Heavies in Kansas City don’t believe that TIF dollars ought to be diverted away from their endless pie-in-the-sky construction projects.

You get the idea.

After the Gov’s speech he had a couple of his top people do the micro-death by PowerPoint thing. (To their credit they were precise, on message and quickly out. This portion took maybe 15 minutes.) The Gov’s point: if all this money – around $500 million annually – is being used for tax credits, that’s money NOT being used on schools.

Missouri is 34th-35th in education funding. Just under half of the state budget goes to education at all levels, and we’re still in the bottom nation percentile. But we have $500 million to blow on far less useful endeavors?

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OF’s kids, you may recall, attend Academie Lafayette, the most successful charter school in the state. OF noted the AL Board just announced the state is going to “claw back” 2% of the funding to the school for the FY 09-10 year. And the legislature is looking to reduce the upcoming FY10-11 year support level by another 2%.

While hundreds of millions are spent on historical preservation or on promoting business (free advertising).

OF asked the Gov i) given our our embarrassing national ranking, shouldn’t we apportion more money toward education, and ii) what happens if his tax credit reform bill flops – does the state intend to cut further into education?

Nixon danced around the 1st query and mentioned that the shortfall next year might be an additional $150 million and we would..uh, you know, have to drown the children when we slide into that pond just wait and see.

Depressing.

After the WebEx, OF told me that Academie Lafayette’s board is engaging Dr. Covington in a conversation about purchasing/leasing one of KCSD’s buildings. You know, just in case KCSD has a school or 26 they’re not using? Dr. Covington responded with a missive that started:

Thanks for your letter requesting the purchase of a building from the Kansas City Missouri School district. Prior to having that discussion I would like to initiate some additional conversation regarding a more formal partnership between Academie Lafayette and the school district.”

The good doctor went on to say that the district’s “Transformation framework” has a directed focus surrounding world languages. In particular he is interested in “expanding the immersion programs through high school” and that “a more formal partnership would allow Academie Lafayette to participate in our professional development opportunities.” Covington ended the letter by saying “I would welcome the opportunity to discuss this with you prior to any final discussions on the purchase of a building.”

Now…I may not have set across the negotiation table with the Ruskies in a long time, but my skills are not all that rusty. Let’s translate:

“Thanks for offering to buy one of KCSD’s many unused, dilapidated and undoubtedly over-priced school buildings. However, I got bigger problems. Even if I could sell all of the unused schools today, which I can’t, I’ve got issues. I mean, I was $30 mil in the hole this year and will still be $30 mil in the hole next year. No, my bigger problem is image, or more exactly, cachet.

“As in I ain’t got any.

“What I do have is a district full of kids with C averages or less, parents who allow their kids to bring weapons, drugs and their shitty little attitudes to school to disrupt and harm fellow students. I have a teachers union that has just cause to cut off their nose to spite their own face, and believe me they do. I’ve a bureaucracy full of political appointees that will take me at least a year or two to cleanse and my every move will undoubtedly go to a split vote of the council. And that’s only if I don’t get fired like the 20 other Superintendents this district has had in the last 30 years. Top all that off with the fact that the district is still only provisionally accredited and what I got is tsouris out my ass.

“I need Academie Lafayette’s cachet. Badly.

“I need to show KC I’m serious about turning the district around. And bringing Academie Lafayette into the district, having KCSD sponsor your charter might do that for me. True it won’t solve any of the problems the District has, but it will look good.

“Yes, I know that wouldn’t benefit Academie Lafayette in any tangible way. Yes, we would undoubtedly abuse your teaching system, force you to do things “our way”, perhaps upsize your classrooms to 35040 kids per. And, yes, I know Academie Lafayette was started in response to the awful incompetence that was/is the KCSD so your parents, and probably at least half your board, are dead set against the idea of working with us.

“But I’m not even going to talk to you about letting you buy one of our buildings unless I get what I want.”

Sincerely…”

That sound about right? It does to some Academie Lafayette board members, OF, and many teachers/ parents. These folk have long sore memories of their prior dealings with the KCSD and have no wish to repeat the experience.

Yes, Academie Lafayette is in a rough spot.

That the AL board brought it on themselves (by ‘accidentally’ upping their enrolment one year from 85 students to 120, thereby forcing the rental of a second property to accommodate everyone) is but a drop of spilt milk compared to the spreading mess their decision to compound that ‘accident’ is creating – the board recently voted to accept 120 incoming kindergarten students each year for the next decade.

With incoming classes of 120 students there is no choice any more but to support a 2 building campus or purchase a larger building.

But…money really isn’t there for either option. The ostensible reason the AL board voted to admit 120 new students each academic year is the school was not making enough money to service its debt. And mind you, this was before the 2% claw-back by the state and probable 2% reduction in funding for the next academic year.

So the question remains outstanding – why wasn’t the school servicing its debt? Until that is answered you have no way of knowing whether pushing enrolment to 120 students provides enough revenue (especially considering the onus of the larger debt necessarily involved in an outright purchase of another building) or simply allows the school to continue treading the financial waters.

If no new building is forthcoming, trailers are inevitable at the current campus, not to mention a new addition to the original building (which was the board’s original, pre-recession plan.) But the board doesn’t like the idea because…wait for it…the money isn’t right.

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OF appears less cynical about all this than last year. In fact his mien is of a man who has accepted and made peace with his doom; what happens happens and he will act accordingly.

But, gripping as it may be to those involved, Académie Lafayette is just one tiny story. Variations on this theme are being played out across the state at literally over 500 schools, not to speak of our colleges and universities. There is consistently less and less money for education. Cuts are looming for the foreseeable future. And the quiet, “oh, someone else will take care of it” never-getting-involved-individuals will likely still be on the snipping end.

If you have kids, or if you just don’t think we ought to be wasting $500 million a year in tax credits where they’re not needed, get up off your ass and contact your state Representative or Senator. Or don’t – stay right there on your ass and use this link to contact them.

Let them know you think our children’s education is important.

You wouldn’t want Sam Clemmons laughing at us for how we’re “spending” our money, would you?

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