Salina area legislators were back home Saturday morning. Senator Tom Arpke, and representatives J.R. Claeys, Diana Dierks, and Steven Johnson all participated in a question and answer session with the public. Questions ranged from guns, the death penalty, and most notably education.
The four legislators were divided on their support of the block grant education overhaul that is awaiting Governor Sam Brownback’s signature to become law. Arpke and Claeys supported the legislation, while Dierks and Johnson opposed it. Dierks said that the new legislation needed more thought and study. “It was proposed and enacted much too too fast” she said.
All four were in agreement that the big unknown right now is if the new funding would be legally compliant. Arpke said that the court has been “absolutely sticking its nose where it doesn’t belong”. He said that the way the old funding formula was written was so confusing that few people really understood it. . “He who knows the rules, wins” Arpke said. ” Those who know how the system works use it to their advantage and get the most money, and that’s not fair” he added.
In explaining his opposition to the new block grants, which include minimal funding increases for the next couple of years while a new funding formula is written, Johnson voiced concerns about Ellsworth High School. He said that a class of about 30 is set to graduate, with a class of around 80 just coming in. The way the school funding has been politically driven is disappointing he said. “We need to get rid of the ideology monologue, and instead into a dialogue” Johnson said.
The topic of school consolidation was discussed. Arpke said that he is “not a big fan of school consolidation”. But he said that administrative consolidation is something he would support, citing the work done by the Smoky Hill Education Service Center in Salina with area school districts. Dierks cautioned about consolidation, saying “some in the legislature seem to forget that there is something west of Salina”. She expressed concern that administrative consolidation would lead to schools consolidating. Claeys said that consolidation was an issue best left to local school boards.
The four legislators were split on the death penalty. Dierks and Johnson indicated that they would support repealing the death penalty in Kansas. Claeys said that he was “vehemently opposed”to repealing it. He said that it was very personal to him, citing the case of Salina Police Officer Jerry Ivey who was killed in the line of duty, as what should have been a death penalty case. After his conviction, Ivey’s killer Roy Schultz later escaped from prison and committed crimes against a family in Missouri”. “Mr. Schultz should never had the chance to escape from prison” Claeys said.
Three of the four legislators said that they would not oppose concealed carry of guns in Kansas, without training or a permit. All four said that they thought the legislation would pass. Dierks was the only one in opposition telling a story about a child who was killed and citing safety concerns. Claeys said that he is working to amend the law to make conceal carry legal in the Salina City County Building. It is currently not legal in the building, but he said that he is working on behalf of county commissioners to make it legal in most areas of the building, with the exception of the third floor where the courts are. He said that current law is “all or nothing” and does not allow for just portions of a building to allow guns.
Johnson used his closing statement to encourage everyone to stay engaged, saying that if change is desired in Topeka the only way it will happen is if voices are heard.
The third and final legislative update will be on May 16th