Kansas Public Education Vs. Everything Else

Guest Commentary by Johnson County Commissioner Mike Brown

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As a Johnson County Commissioner I have been fielding at least a call per week regarding Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) infrastructure, namely roads and bridges. Last week the message was about the east bound lanes of K-10 at Woodland in the South of Olathe. A very nice lady was concerned perhaps something was terribly wrong with the bridge as in her travels over it each day it seemed to worsen. I went and drove this route twice that very hour – once in each lane – specifically to check about this concern. I am typically in the left lane at this location daily because I want to avoid the slow down of the merging cars just east of the bridge and my first pass was in my normal lane where it occurred to me it was very rough at the approach and departure of the bridge and seemingly I’d been desensitized to it over time as it degraded and it jostled my SUV around and rattled the change in the ashtray. I turned around at Ridgeview and went back to K-7 and did it again in the slow right lane and this time I feared my big, tough and sturdy SUV was going to need an alignment and possible new tires while literally watching the change from the ashtray jump up and scatter on the floor board. Minutes later I sent a message to the director of Johnson County Public Works as I knew he would have a contact he could get to quickly at KDOT. I was correct and I had an answer back in a few hours that the bridge itself was safe, the approach and departure abutments need work but aren’t dangerous and that KDOT is broke and maintenance would happen at an unknown date in the future when funding became available. I was relieved the bridge is safe, unsatisfied that this is “the new normal” and frustrated that the investment made in a world class transportation system over two decades is now crumbling. I’ve shared my frustration about this topic on Facebook and directly with KDOT Secretary Carlson and many State Legislators, some of whom were elected primarily to push for additional funding for K-12 public education, and many of which admitted privately there must be funding for other State of Kansas operations and responsibilities too.

To be sure, I as a businessman, a builder, a land developer and parent with children in Public Education understand that this must be “a” priority but I also understand it cannot be the only priority with no regard or care for my fellow Kansans, their lives and the investment we’ve already made in our collective state.

To be sure, investment in roads and bridges is a huge economic development tool that truly has allowed for explosive growth in Edgerton and Olathe related to the Intermodal and Logistics Park Kansas City (LPKC). We need a new interchange at I-35 & Gardner Road to keep the growth going and traffic moving. We also desperately need a new 75th Street overpass at I-35 as all of Johnson County (and KDOT too) knows and is aware.

As a Johnson County Commissioner I also deal with cuts or elimination of funding to state mandated and important functions like Mental Health, Developmental Supports, Corrections, Judges/Courts and several others. I do believe as a human being, an American, a Kansan, a Johnson Countian, an Olathean and as a Commissioner we have a responsibility to help and take care of those who cannot take care of themselves provided the recipient understands should they turn the safety net of my compassion into a hammock I will flip it over and drop you unceremoniously onto the floor. That said, there are MANY good folks who NEED these services and we at the Counties of Kansas are the “funding source of last resort” so it’s then up to us as Commissioners to raise taxes or decide what other county department(s) can do with less – and the downward cycle continues – but in reality none of that sacrifice fixes a single bridge or road.

And so here we are back at the beginning… Public Education is certainly a priority to all of us and in the words of the school districts legal council, Alan Rupe, a Wichita lawyer, other programs “may have to suffer” so that schools receive more money. That’s a damned callous thing to say when I know the faces of those who are sacrificing and doing without… and I too know where an all or nothing path leads us. Be careful, Mr. Rupe, with your haughty, self-righteous indignation as you may well find your cash-cow called public education no longer constitutionally required and you may then find your cause careening across the broken down bridges we all now deal with… because you have no self control and do not know when enough is enough.