Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle and Kansas House Speaker Ron Ryckman are asking the Kansas State Department of Education to suspend Deputy Commissioner Dale Dennis for providing school funding contrary to state law.
In a letter to the chair of the Kansas Board of Education chair Jim Porter, Ryckman and Wagle write that Dennis knowingly authorized payments for transportation funding to school districts, and he did so knowing that state statute doesn’t provide for a minimum per-student transportation funding. The minimum weighting was removed from state statute in 1973.
“These unauthorized expenditures by Mr. Dennis and KSDE are not negligible,” the letter reads. If the funding was distributed since the time it was removed from statute, “KSDE, through Mr. Dennis, has improperly spent over $405 million in taxpayer dollars in violation of Kansas law.”
According to their letter, Dennis told a Legislative Post Audit committee that he authorized the distribution of funds based on a conversation with former state Sen. Charles Angell. Angell left office in 1984 and died in 2014.
Dennis told the Wichita Eagle that legislative leaders helped him calculate transportation funding so as not to discriminate against some school districts. Two teachers unions, the Kansas National Educators Association and the American Federation of Teachers–Kansas, along with the Kansas Association of School Boards, the United School Administrators of Kansas, and the Kansas School Superintendents Association issued a joint statement defending Dennis.
According to the statement, Dennis has been the “best friend public education and the kids of Kansas have had.”
“Dale Dennis is the most trustworthy, honest, and respected advocate for children and schools and has been throughout his years of service,” it reads.
Wagle and Ryckman say they aren’t questioning Dennis’ honesty, but they say they are “deeply troubled” that KSDE, under Dennis’ direction, misallocated hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.
The public lobby groups, however, write that Dennis’ level of transparency and accountability is something they all aspire to.
“…Our Legislature and all Kansans should remain focused on the serious issues facing public schools rather than attacking a man being accused of ensuring Kansas kids have a safe ride to school,” their joint statement reads.
KSDE doesn’t audit the distribution of state funds to public schools to ensure it meets statutory guidelines. The legislative leaders requested the department conduct an internal forensic audit to determine if funds continue to be misallocated. They asked that Dennis be placed on administrative leave with pay until an audit is completed.