February 21, 2024

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

Schools ignore legal requirement to conduct needs assessments

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State law requires local school boards to conduct annual building needs assessments of each school as part of the budget process, but most of them seem to ignore their legal obligation.  A sampling of 25 of the largest districts in Kansas shows only two districts arguably complied with K.S.A. 72-1163(a), which says, “Each year the board of education of a school district shall conduct an assessment of the educational needs of each attendance center in the district. Information obtained from such needs assessment shall be used by the board when preparing the budget of the school district.”

But even though two districts listed each attendance center on the reports, there is no indication that the information generated will redirect resources to improve student achievement.

Coffeyville one of two districts reporting on each attendance center

Coffeyville provided reports for each of its three buildings in response to our Open Records request, each with sections for Student Needs, Staff Needs, Curriculum Needs, and Facility Needs.  But very little of the information in the Student Needs section identifies needs; it is largely demographic information and the most important element is not correct.

The assessment for Community Elementary says 36 of its 940 students enrolled last year were not proficient or roughly 4%.  But 88% are not proficient according to the Kansas Department of Education state assessment results.  The assessment definitions do not include the word ‘proficient’ but KSDE told the U.S. Department of Education that only students in Levels 3 and 4 are proficient; students in Levels 1 and 2 are not proficient, and on that basis, 88% of Community Elementary students were not proficient in 2021.

The reports for Roosevelt Middle School and Field Kindley High School are also grossly inaccurate.  The needs assessment reports say 16% and 12%, respectively, are not proficient.  But the state assessment shows 77% and 93%, respectively, are not proficient.

There is little hope that these needs assessments can inform the budget process when the reports grossly understate students’ academic needs.

It’s also telling that the question about disparities in student achievement among ethnic groups is left blank on each report.

Kansas City also has reports for each attendance center

USD 500 in Kansas City utilizes similar reports to those in Coffeyville.  And like Coffeyville, USD 500 identifies very little information that could inform the budget process about improving student achievement.

The Kansas City reports also grossly mispresent student achievement in the district.  The report doesn’t say how many students are not proficient in math and English language arts; it merely links to the state assessment results.  The comments are even more deceptive.

The math comment on the F. L. Schlagle High School report says, “10th Grade PLC has created plans to help students understand what is being asked in the math problem.  They emphasize scholarly language.”  The ELA section says, “10th Grade ELA has shown growth.  PLC practices are improving.”

The state assessment results show 3% of Schlagle students on are track for college and career in math, and only 6% in ELA.  How are students expected to understand ‘scholarly language’ when 63% of them can’t read at grade level?

USD 500 completed an assessment for each attendance center, but each amounts to nothing more than going through the motions in terms of improving student achievement.

The bad, the ugly, and the defiantly oppositional

None of the 25 districts we surveyed provided what might be considered ‘good’ in terms of allocating resources to improve student achievement.  It’s more of a ‘bad, ugly, and defiantly oppositional’ situation.

Coffeyville and Kansas City would be labeled ‘bad.’ Eighteen others are in the ‘ugly’ category, and five districts- Blue Valley, Gardner-Edgerton, Garden City, Shawnee Mission, and Iola – are ‘defiantly oppositional.’

USD 229 Blue Valley, USD 231 Gardner Edgerton, USD 457 Garden City, and USD 512 Shawnee Mission claim school boards are not legally obligated to produce needs assessment reports.

Melissa Hillman, Blue Valley General Counsel, said, “Blue Valley does not maintain a document titled “Building Needs Assessment Report,” nor do I believe maintaining such a report is required.”

Gardner-Edgerton paid their outside legal counsel, Lathrop & Gage, to respond to our KORA request.  Grant Tideman wrote, “USD 231 has no documents responsive to this request.  Your request seems to assume that there is a legal requirement for a specific written form to be prepared and retained by USD 231.  If so, I disagree with that assumption.  There is no legal requirement for such a specific written form.”

Garden City Financial Officer Colleen Drees wrote, “Garden City Public Schools (USD 457) does a building needs assessment (assessment) for each attendance center, every year, as required by KSA 72-1163.  The district does the assessments through meetings, committees, and updates with department heads. The assessments are then used by the Board of Education to prepare the annual budget and summary of the budget, both of which are written documents required by KSA 72-1163. The aforementioned statute does not require a written assessment document. Therefore, the requested records do not exist. USD 457 is not required under KORA to create a record that does not previously exist.”

Drees said the assessments were discussed at the board meetings on July 12, July 26, and August 23, but there is no mention of that taking place on the agendas and meeting minutes on any of those dates.

Shawnee Mission also takes the position that state law does not require any written report to be produced and claims the information was shared verbally with board members.  But like Garden City, there is no documentation to substantiate that claim.

The other district – Iola – compelled us to file Open Records complaint with the county attorney for demanding $377 to have several administrators search their records to see if they have the reports requested.  The attorney handling KORA complaints for Allen County has not responded.

Responses from the 18 other districts – the ‘ugly’ – are summarized in the table below.

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