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Noonletter, Nov. 28, 2018

Crysta Henthorne
Kansas News Service

Paging all adjuncts

Some five dozen University of Kansas professors and librarians decided to take up the school on its buyout offer. KU is looking to cut its faculty ranks, particularly instructors who weigh down the school’s payroll most heavily.

Stephen Koranda reports that about a fourth of the faculty eligible for the voluntary early retirement offer took the deal.

Provost Carl Lejuez has championed the move as a way to boost KU’s long-term finances — the university is looking to trim $20 million from its budget — and open slots for junior (and, conveniently, cheaper) faculty.

Not surprisingly, Faculty Senate President Kirk McClure worries the change will leave KU with fewer experienced professors in the classroom and that, consequently, students will be less eager to come to Lawrence.

Crowd-sourced consolation?

Kris Kobach asked Kansas voters for a promotion from secretary of state to governor. They turned him down.

And while that may have been as much a rejection of a politician unafraid of controversy as it was an endorsement of the more collegial woman who beat him, he still drives passions.

His bromance with the president over beliefs about immigration and voter fraud has already prompted speculation that Kobach could be the country’s next attorney general. We’re still waiting for President Donald Trump’s pick on that front.

Meanwhile, reports that Trump is growing dissatisfied with Kirstjen Nielsen as Homeland Security secretary have triggered speculation, or wishful thinking, about another possibility.

A petition on the White House’s website suggests Kobach’s a natural to take over at DHS. It was started Monday. It needs 100,000 signatures by the day after Christmas to force the White House to make some kind of response (which could easily amount to nothing). By early Wednesday morning, it had nearly 8,000 virtual signatures.

“No one,” the petition starts, “is more qualified to address the ongoing border crisis and to carry out the Trump Administration's immigration agenda than Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.”

Fewer kids, fewer schools

Enrollment in public schools in Kansas was flat this year. No big deal by itself.

But as Stephan Bisaha reports, that fits in with longer projections about population and birth trends for the state that suggest fewer Kansas schoolchildren in the years to come.

That’ll translate into less state money to local schools, which is fair enough. School districts exist to teach children, not to support faculty and administrative payrolls.

But the trend can be more dramatic in small communities with shrinking populations that have barely enough students to justify their existing schools. Consolidating operations with nearby towns makes money sense, but it means longer bus rides for kids.

And in rural areas, schools form a critical role in community identity. Without a school, it can feel like you no longer have a real town.

“In some of these communities they’ve lost the stores and the restaurants that used to be around,” said Michael Griffith of the Education Commission of the States, “but the school is one of the last things left in the community so people rally behind it.”

Takeoff delayed, again

Kansas City International Airport will have a new terminal. At some point. Probably.

But the projected completion date continues to drift farther into the future as the cost estimates tick up, up, up.

Now Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Sly James has emailed a statement saying the city and airlines are hitting a reset button on the scope of the project.

“Since the project cannot move forward with further design and construction until environmental approvals are granted, the airlines have requested as part of their due diligence, and we have agreed, to take a second look at the project scope and ensure everyone is comfortable,” James said in the statement.

KCUR’s Lisa Rodriguez reports that smaller carriers, such as Spirit and Allegiant, don’t want the new terminal to become so pricey that running flights through Kansas City gets so expensive budget airlines find themselves nudged out of the market. That, in turn, would reduce competition and likely push up the cost of squeezing into seat 32C on a United or Southwest flight.

Three-letter slur

As the kids said in the ’90s, this is so random. And bad.

If you don’t pay extra for a vanity license plate, the Kansas Department of Revenue will give you one that includes three randomly generated letters.

That’s led to more than 300 people driving around the state with plates that read “JAP,” the Associated Press reports. It’s fair to say there’s a problem with slapping an ethnic slur on the front of so many Camrys and F-150s in a state-sanctioned manner.

So the state is recalling the plates. The AP says vehicle owners were sent a letter dated Tuesday asking to swap them out for free within 30 days. People who don’t haul themselves to the DMV in that period will get replacement tags at their next annual renewal.

Scott Canon is digital editor of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @ScottCanon.

 Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

As the editor of a statewide news outlet, I aspire to work with our reporters to give Kansans a clear-eyed view of the place they call home. That means delivering hard-hitting stories that expose those things that keep Kansas from being the most vibrant, healthy place it can be. You can reach me at scott@kcur.org or 816-235-8023.
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