Kuklenski Leads Schools Through the Turbulent 70s


Board meetingThe new relationship between the Board and employees was very much affected by a major change in teacher organizations that occurred in 1973. The long-established Missouri State Teachers' Association broke with its national parent group, the National Education Association. The MSTA affiliate here, the Springfield Education Association, chose to remain affiliated with the MSTA group. Because of the disaffiliation of the state association from the national, NEA began to form its own organizations in the state and the Springfield-National Education Association was formed. The relationship between the two organizations and between them and the Board was a major change in the 1970's.

One of the major concerns of both organizations was salaries and Boards of Education during the 1970's attempted to keep them competitive. Comparison of raw figures without simultaneous consideration of the many other economic factors can be misleading. However, budget figures show that, overall, certificated salaries increased by 77.5 percent from 1969-70 to 1979-80.
It needs to be pointed out, however, that during the period, there were two years when there were no salary increases at all. One of those occurred in 1971, when the government instigated a wage freeze. The other happened in 1976-77 when the Board felt income was such that increases could not be considered.

A number of improvements in employee benefits were made over the years. School people were covered by workmen's (later changed to worker's) compensation and unemployment compensation for the first time. The retirement age rose from 65 to 70 years of age. Several areas of the leave policy changed during the period and a completely new leave policy approved at decade's end. Study started on a fringe benefit insurance package.

Perhaps the most far-reaching new program relating to teachers was the Teacher Tenure Law passed by the state in 1970. It put new teachers on probation for five years before they went on tenure. After going on tenure, a teacher could only be released for very specific reasons. Coupled with this was the instigation of a district-developed staff development program to help teachers evaluate the job they were doing.


Overseeing the budget for operation of the schools has been one of the biggest jobs of the Boards of Education during the decade. During that ten-year period the total expenditures for the district went from $18,641,021 to $43,337,726, an increase of 132 percent.

As expenditures increased and enrollment decreased, that meant a 163 percent increase in the expenditure behind each student; from $756 to $1,215.

Even though, through the decade, the State of Missouri increased its total amount of dollars for support of local schools, that figure as a percentage of total income did not change significantly. It was 31.97 percent in 1970; it was 35.50 percent in 1980. A major change in the area was the revision of the School Foundation Program toward the end of the decade.

Much of the burden of operating the schools continued on the local property tax levy. Despite all the additions and improvements in the educational program, that levy was only 15 cents more in 1980 than it was in 1970. That reflects a 48 cent increase approved by voters in 1976, coupled with decreases (in debt service) amounting to 33 cents. A rapidly growing community and economy produced more income from the same levy. The assessed property valuation in the district more than doubled. The levy in 1980, however, was at that level where it could no longer be increased with just a simple majority approval but would require a two-thirds majority.

Reassessment of property throughout the state for equity, often discussed during the 70's, got its first foot in the door with legislation passed in 1979. It would continue to be a topic for discussion during the 1980's.

For the first time during the late 1970's, budgets proposed were out of balance, anticipating more expenditures than revenue in a given year. Although these estimates did not always come true, the operating reserves represented as a percentage of reserve to the same year's budget needs dropped from 17.62 to 10.8 percent.

Continued voter support for the schools was a very important part of the 1970's, a trend that was not apparent elsewhere in the country. Besides the 48 cent levy increase, voters approved a $6,000,000 bond issue for future improvements in June of 1978.

While overall enrollment started down in the 1970's, there were several areas of the city, in the south and southwest that continued rapid growth. Housing in these areas became a problem.

Efforts to alleviate those problems started with construction work early in the decade. Additions were added at Horace Mann, Cowden, Disney and Cherokee Schools and Kickapoo High School opened.

The 1978 bond issue provided funds for further improvements in south Springfield including the new Jeffries School. Included also were additions at Kickapoo and Cherokee in that area as well as location of a site for another school there.

As alternatives, the Board had to wrestle with the often troublesome procedure of changing attendance area boundaries on a regular basis to provide relief for crowded schools. There were several elementary boundary changes each year since 1970.

School busAnother thorny problem for the Board during the decade was transportation. As the district grew through annexation, its bus system grew in a "hodgepodge" way. When the Board started to straighten the system out in 1976, it experienced the opposition it had anticipated.

There followed setting of the first rigid mileage standards for bus rider eligibility. A special election issue to allow transportation for all students living at least one-half mile from school was defeated. A district-prompted Attorney General's ruling stated that exceptions to limits could not be considered because of traffic conditions. A new state law was finally approved allowing transportation for non-eligible students at parents' expense.

One of the biggest changes in the system came in 1978 when all bus routing was switched to a computer. This tended to equalize routes and make them more efficient.


The Board of Education over the decade found ever more of its local control slipping away because of state and federal legislation, rules and regulations and court decisions.

Major federal legislation that played a role in operation of the schools included the following: Public Law 94-142, Education for All Handicapped Children; Title IX on sex discrimination; the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1975 and assorted rules and regulations relating to energy use during several crises during the period.

Court cases relating to civil rights, student suspensions, corporal punishment and other areas had an effect in day-to-day operation of the schools. The decision of one federal judge prompted the Office of Civil Rights to investigate the district as one of several hundred that supposedly had racial imbalance in some schools. A check here, however, found the district was in compliance with federal laws and court decisions.

The State of Missouri played an ever-increasing role in the operation of the schools as well, particularly in relation to the local use of federal funds that go through the state level.

At one point, the district was directed to share textbooks with parochial schools. A court later ruled this unconstitutional. The same was the case with use of Title I funds for remediation work. The later decision prompted a complete federal bypass of the state to get funds to parochial schools.

An Attorney General's ruling in 1972 said the district could not charge fees in the public schools for textbooks or other materials. It resulted in a significant loss of income and caused cutbacks of the summer school program that had been on a fee basis.

A number of actions of the Missouri General Assembly during the 1970's also played an important part in the operation of the schools. Included were revisions of the School Foundation Program, passage of the Teacher Tenure Law, and reassessment of property in the state.

There was much study and concern about the status and future of education in the state during the 1970's. Two major studies promoted changes in various aspects of education in the state that since have been instigated to some extent.

A Public School Finance Study Committee in 1972 made major recommendations in the area of school finance, organization and classification. The Governor's Conference on Education held in December of 1976 came up with specific recommendations in many of the areas. Many of the recommendations from that assembly were included in new state legislation.


School volunteerThe decade of the 70's was one that saw continued citizen involvement in their schools and more cooperation between all community agencies in getting certain jobs done. Most visual was the work accomplished by school officials, city officials and representatives of the Parent-Teacher Association in improving safety for children. They developed a safe route project to identify the best ways for youngsters to get to school and then set about trying to improve those routes. The result was the approval of a city bond issue that provided funds for a massive expansion of sidewalks around schools and the construction of three pedestrian overpasses around busy schools.

The Board also worked closely with the City Zoning and Planning Commission and the Springfield Park Board in planning for future facilities.

The district's contribution to community involvement included expansion of the adult programs through the Graff Area Vocational Technical Center. That facility was also instrumental in helping another large new industry, R. T. French, train employees during the 70's. It had done the same for Zenith Radio and Litton Advanced Circuits and others during the 60's.

Japanese educatorsThe 1970's was a decade of opportunities...many welcomed, some taken advantage of, some discarded and others still in progress. It should be remembered as a very progressive decade. It was one in which the district continued to build and grow while still keeping many of the excellent qualities that made it unique over the years. It ended the decade still financially solvent, without empty classrooms, without having to layoff staff and without the extensive problems with discipline experienced almost everywhere else.

What about the 1980's? Here's Superintendent J. E. Kuklenski's response to that:

"During the 1980's we know that the school district will open one new elementary school and possibly two, based upon changing enrollment patterns in the area. There will also be a number of other physical improvements, already provided for in a 1978 bond issue. Although total enrollment will undoubtedly decline, it's our hope that it will be a slow, steady decline, one that will not require any drastic changes in staff or facilities. Such a decline will permit, in many cases, smaller class sizes and/or additional space for educational services. It's our hope that continued public support, a stable economy and wise financial management will allow the district to continue expanding and improving programs for youngsters on all ability levels, with the final result that they will be trained for the changing needs of society. Overall, it will not be a period of rapid and drastic change, as we have seen the past several decades, but one that will provide stabilization for the program."


Dr. Kuklenski was to affect little of the change coming in the decade ahead. He announced in 1980 that he would retire.

The search process for a Superintendent began again. This time, the School Board would go outside the local community to look.

[JOURNAL] [Contents] [Chapter 1] [Chapter 2] [Chapter 3] [Chapter 4] [Chapter 5] [Chapter 6] [Chapter 8]
This page prepared by