Tuesday, April 17, 2018

“The State Doesn’t Levy Property Taxes”

Now that ANOTHER legislative session has ended with no viable solution for Nebraska’s extreme over-reliance on local property taxes to fund K-12 education, some of Nebraska’s elected leaders continue to somehow blame school districts for causing high property taxes. They love to say “the state doesn’t levy property taxes” as a way to pass the buck on to locally elected school board members that put in countless hours to ensure their school systems are living up to the mandates and guidelines established at the state level.

These “pass the buck politicians” love to imply local property taxes are insanely high due only to local spending instead of the outdated and ineffective way we fund our schools.

For some reason, even a few leaders within the Nebraska State Chamber of Commerce like to pile on and seem to take joy in blaming K-12 education for high property taxes. That’s sad because many, many others believe that K-12 education is an integral part of this state’s economic development.

The truth is the state of Nebraska forces school districts to live off property taxes. Right at 72% of Nebraska’s school districts don’t receive any equalization aid from Nebraska. They have nowhere to turn other than property taxes.

Over 70% of York’s revenue this year comes from local property taxes. The national average is just 29%.

It’s like a restaurant requiring its chef to make a nice dinner but they don’t give him/her money to buy the necessary groceries. The chef then has to go charge the items needed at the local grocery store and then gets ridiculed by the restaurant for “over-spending.”

York hasn’t had a spending increase since 2014-15 and only an average annual spending increase of 1.3% since 2009.

Since 2014-15, our local property taxes have increased $1 million but our total revenue has DECREASED by $720,000. That’s right, the increase of $1 million in property taxes isn’t even keeping up with our lost revenue from the state.

As a state, Nebraska ranks 49th in the nation for the percentage of school district revenue it provides from the state level.

You be the judge…does York Public Schools have a spending or a funding problem?

Wednesday, April 4, 2018


Now that I'm an old-timer that has been a superintendent for 15 years, I often get asked by young whipper-snappers what are some of the biggest changes I've seen in educational leadership. I only taught and coached for four years before I joined the dark side of educational administration at the age of 25 and then became a stupid-intendent at the age of 30. I've seen lots of changes.

The biggest change I've noticed in the superintendency, however, has been that this is a COMMUNITY job. Gone are the days where the superintendent just works for "the school." Yes, obviously, that will always be our "main thing" and our top priority but today's superintendents have to be highly involved in their communities. I believe we have to have the mindset that we work "for" the community, of which the school system is an integral piece.

I love working for the community of York and I will argue that helps make York Public Schools better. By being engaged with other community leaders, we are able to simultaneously work on projects that benefit YPS and York as a whole. Partnering with the York Chamber, Visitors Bureau, YCDC, and others helps us provide great opportunities for students.

The new Manufacturing and Entrepreneurship course at YMS is a direct result of YCDC hooking YPS together with Cyclonaire. Our summer Entrepreneurship Academies are because of our generous business sector and the York Chamber of Commerce. We have amazing partnerships with York General, Southeast Community College, Central Valley Ag, Wendy's, UTC, Truck Center Companies, and many more. The list goes on and on and on.

For those folks out there aspiring to be superintendents, my hat is off to you. We need more people willing to do this gig. It can be a great job if you're in the right place. Just remember, you need to work for more than just the school. Build relationships with business leaders, bankers, shop owners, manufacturers, and others. This is 2018 and "the school" has to become much more invested in their communities. We need to give back to those that give so much to us!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

School Safety

We take “school safety” extremely seriously. We are constantly reviewing, updating, and revising our safety response protocols. This blog is meant to give you an update on what we have been doing and will continue to do here in York.

We have communicated with local law enforcement officials and first responders on multiple occasions as we work to make sure we are all on the same page for various safety scenarios. This spring, our law enforcement and first responder departments will all re-familiarize themselves with all of our school facilities. They will come up and tour our buildings and learn about changes we’ve made in our procedures since the last time they did this a few years ago. We will be reviewing our different protocols for lock-downs, fire, tornado, evacuation, and other potential situations.

We are also in the process of researching and revamping various nationally recognized models of “emergency response protocols.” It is our intent to work hand-in-hand with local law enforcement officials so that we all know what each other are trained to do in different circumstances. We are thrilled that our local law enforcement agencies are so willing and able to assist in these efforts.

Our building administrators will continue to review various safety precautions with staff members and/or students in each facility. It is our intent to talk about safe places to hide, share possibilities for exiting our facilities in a hurry, and things to do for all kinds of situations.

Please rest assured, we take the safety of your children extremely seriously and will continue to do so. Please contact my office with any questions, comments, or concerns.

Go Dukes,

Mike Lucas

Tuesday, March 20, 2018


“Culture” is a popular word nowadays. Many books have been written on this topic. Many speakers earn big chunks of money by talking about it. But what is it?

For this blog, I’m going to use the following dictionary definition to describe the “culture” I choose to write about.
- the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization (example - A corporate culture focused on the bottom line)

As a school leader, I spend quite a bit of time thinking about our school district’s culture. I also study other organizations, units, companies, and teams that I admire and respect and try to find common themes that they stress as it relates to their “culture.”

Below are some of my random thoughts on “culture.” Again, these are stolen bits and pieces I’ve picked up from dozens of books, articles, conversations, and presentations over the past 20-years.

• Culture is comprised of the values/beliefs of a team, organization, or group
• Culture is what allows an organization to have sustained success
• Culture can be described as “the way we do things around here”
• Culture is your team’s ‘personality’

“Climate” often gets confused with “culture.” However, there are major differences. Climate changes from day to day. Climate is based on perceptions. Climate is short-term. Culture is long-term.

We’ve tried to help instill the “find a way” mentality into our culture at York Public Schools. We want our culture to be results-driven and performance-focused. We try to stress collaboration and a team-like approach. We pride ourselves on innovation and taking risks.

We try to emphasize “servant leadership” where all of us, regardless of our job title or job description, simply work to do whatever needs to be done, however it needs to be done, whenever it needs to be done, for whoever it needs to be done for. We try to shoot for common goals and objectives and create as much buy-in as possible all along the way.

We’re not always successful, but we always try to emphasize “trust” throughout our organization because I believe it is the most important ingredient in any relationship, personal or professional. We want our culture to be as simple as if we say we’re going to do something, we’re going to do it. We want you to be able to trust us to keep our word.

Part of our culture needs to be attention to detail and making sure that we stay in tune with even the smallest areas of our organization in need of improvement. “Relentless” is a word we like to think is part of our culture. We want to be courageous and relentless in how we pursue opportunities for our students.

Below are some quotes that emphasize bits and pieces of things I hope can be found in our YPS Culture.

• “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

I hope it is evident with our actions that our “main things” are our students and the opportunities we try to provide them.

• “All winning organizations have a comfortable level of discomfort.”

This is another trait I hope is evident throughout YPS. Things are not perfect here. We often have to have awkward and difficult conversations. We don’t ever want to get too comfortable or “settle” for pretty good when excellence is always the goal.

• “Talk doesn’t cook rice.”

We really work to be action-oriented. Talk is cheap. Results are the goal. We try to instill this all throughout our entire organization. We don’t need to be fancy. We need to be successful.

The last part of the YPS Culture that I hope is evident to others is that we’re never satisfied. I hope we are always working to get better. We have to be relentless in planning for the future.

We are not perfect. We need to improve in so many areas, it is overwhelming at times. You might follow the #yorkdukes on Twitter and think every day is a great day, that we have no problems, etc. and that is simply not true. We will always be a “work in progress” because that’s part of the culture here.

In closing, I am proud of the York Duke culture we have but we need to get better. We need to be able to become more supportive and better teammates. We need to continue to improve student behaviors in certain areas. We need to continue to work on communication. We can cut down on "adult drama." We need to enhance school-to-home connections. We need to improve teaching and learning. We need to become more efficient. The superintendent can become more involved and accessible. The list is a mile long. We need to get better.

We need to “find a way” to become more successful. However, I wouldn’t bet against us because "finding a way" is part of our culture.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Way We've Always Done It

This story begins with a cage containing five healthy apes. In the cage hung a banana on a string with stairs under it. Before too long, one of the apes went to the stairs and began climbing up to capture the banana. As soon as he touched the stairs, all of the apes were violently sprayed with ice cold water by a trainer standing near by. After a while, another ape made an attempt up the stairs to reach the banana. Again, as soon as he touched the stairs, all the apes were viciously sprayed with ice cold water.

Pretty soon, when another ape tried to climb the stairs, the other four apes beat him and prevented him from getting close to the stairs. They did not want to be sprayed with ice cold water again!

The next day, one ape was removed from the cage and replaced with a new one. The new ape sees the banana and tries to climb the stairs. To his horror, all of the other apes attack him. After another attempt (and attack) 10 minutes later, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs to obtain the banana, he will be assaulted but he is not sure as to the actual reason. The other four do not want to be sprayed with ice cold water!

The following day, a second ape was removed and replaced with another new one. The newcomer immediately goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the attack with enthusiasm even though he has no idea why he is doing it.

On the third day, another ape is removed and replaced with a new one. There are now two “old ones” and three “newcomers.” This new ape goes to the stairs and is attacked violently by the other four. Two of the apes attacking the newcomer have no idea why they are not permitted to climb the stairs, or why they are participating in the beating of the newest ape.

After replacing the fourth and fifth “original” apes on the next two consecutive days, all of the apes which had been sprayed with the cold water had been replaced. Nevertheless, no ape ever again approached the stairs even though they had never been sprayed with cold water as a deterrent.

This is a story that I like to use from time to time because it is funny, yet serious. It also helps bring up some important points that need to be reviewed from time to time. In some instances, it is important to hold on to the "way we've always done it." In many others, it is important to find better, more creative, and more efficient ways to get something done.

• There are reasons we have some things that we don’t change. We need to sometimes believe in the philosophy of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” because it seems that all too often, especially in public education, we are overanxious to change things that don’t need to be changed. A lot of things here have been going very well for decades. Some things need to continue to be improved.

• It is good, however, to look at things from time to time and analyze why we do what we do and if there are ways we could do it better. All successful people and teams do this and should continue to do so.

• As you analyze your role within your team, and your relationship with your teammates/colleagues, keep in mind there is always more than one way to get something done. Have confidence in what you do and how you do it, but try to be supportive if others do things in a different manner. None of us are completely alike and that is a good thing. Don’t be afraid to try new things, to improve something you have done for a while, etc.

Be a risk taker. Never stop searching for ways to get better. Encourage others to look for new ways as well. Don't settle for the way we've always done it if you can find a better way to make it happen!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Just Random Thoughts

No set topic for this week's blog...just a hodge-podge of miscellaneous musings...

* I spent the past five days down in Sumter County, Florida with my grandmother, who is in hospice care, and expected to pass away by the end of the week. We were able to have many meaningful talks that I will cherish forever. "Mammy" is not "just" a grandmother, but a stabilizing force in our entire family. Her death will be the end of an era. It was extremely difficult to say goodbye to her yesterday but I have to find comfort in that she is going to a better place. Man, I miss her already.

* I pretty much spent 10-12 hours with Mammy each day but was able to drive around a little and think about my childhood years down in the country part of Florida. It reminded me of how much I miss Florida. I miss the horse farms, the mossy oak trees, ponds and lakes, the weather, and just the country ways of Sumter County. I saw people I hadn't seen for 25-30 years that I used to see almost every Sunday at the First Baptist Church of Oxford, where Mammy played the organ for over 60 years! It was definitely a time to do some soul searching. I love living in Nebraska but I do miss Florida. Bad.

* It's funny how the different "zigs" and "zags" you take in life point you in different positions. There was a time, really up until I was 19 years old, that I just knew I was going to live in Florida for the rest of my life. Falling in love with an Omaha girl will change those plans in a hurry and I'm glad they did. I am comfortable and thankful to be a Non-Native Nebraskan that will always consider himself a Floridian who loves Nebraska a lot!

* I'm excited about the new superintendent that OPS hired. Dr. Logan, from Philadelphia, seems like an all-star. I hope she can come in and have immediate and sustained success in our state's largest school system. We need her to be awesome!

* This legislative session has been pretty interesting...not much has gotten done....and it will be entertaining to see what gets done over the coming weeks. I am afraid that nothing substantial will happen in regards to our state's massive over-reliance on local property taxes and that multiple lawsuits will take shape in the coming months. It's a sticky situation, for sure.

* Unfortunately, I had to miss our most recent band and choir concerts due to travel but I heard they were both outstanding. We are so fortunate to have so many talented and dedicated students and staff.

* YPS will be on Spring Break from March 8th-12th. Classes will resume on Tuesday, March 13th. Enjoy some time away.


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Just Some of the Reasons that I LOVE MY JOB

Like many of you, I also have a tough and stressful job. There are days that I definitely wish I had a different career. There are times that I want to go home and never come back to the office. I think that is probably pretty normal for any of us in any profession.

However, let me be very clear, 96.33% of the time, I absolutely love what I do and who I do it for. Being able to go to “school” every day of my career is something I am very proud of. My almost nine years in York have been some of the most challenging and rewarding of my career. I don’t know that I would change too many things that have led up to this point.

Below are just some of the reasons I love my job in beautiful York, Nebraska as a proud member of the York Dukes Family.

• I get to learn about amazingly talented students like Alyssa Gilliland, a sophomore at YHS, that already has an ACT score of 33 to her name and a full-ride academic scholarship to UNL. She’s in 10th grade! (Her ACT score already beats mine by a couple of touchdowns! No extra points but still….)

• I get to see awesome young people like Scott Fulsos mature right in front of my eyes. I got to see how his strong work ethic and determination led him to a gold medal at this year’s state wrestling meet.

• I get to see tremendously dedicated teachers and support staff that work hard for every student every day. I see them in our buildings at night, early in the morning, and on the weekends. Our teachers and staff members are top-notch. I will put them up against anyone.

• I get to do a wide variety of “stuff.” Just yesterday, I woke up at 4:10 AM to drive roads to check for ice. I then was able to tamper with a little weather forecasting. After that, I worked on YPS social media, attended a meeting at the bus barn, worked on a grant, wrote three positive notes to mail home, recruited for a potential staff vacancy, worked on two different budget reports, reviewed our NeSA scores, began preparations for 5th Grade Fitness Fun Day later this spring, made last minute tweaks for our Community Coffee and Lunch & Learn presentations on Wednesday, began to put the wheels in motion for some high ability learner programming this summer, prepared a board meeting agenda, worked on our Senior Class Real World Boot Camp coming up on April 3rd, sent out reminders to the YPS Foundation, studied some of our curriculum maps, reached out to a new hire, checked up on some legislative updates, emailed a state senator, texted another state senator, studied some bus bids, reviewed long-range facility plans/projects, and made notes for different improvements we want to make in 2018-19. Later on, I met with a staff member about health insurance benefits and then went to a basketball game. This is a typical kind of day and it fits my personality well because about every 15-20 minutes, I’m on to something else. I guess I’m like a 1st grader in that regard. Keep me on my toes and keep me moving!

• I get to know amazing parents and families of our students along the way. I have celebrated with them in times of joy and cried with them in times of pain. This job allows you to meet so many wonderful people.

• I get to work with amazing community leaders from our business and industry sector. I am lucky to serve on various boards and councils that get to help promote our town and community. These are connections and friendships that I cherish. York, Nebraska is a special place.

• I see HOPE in our younger generation. I see the great things they do in the classroom and within school activities. I know that today’s young people deal with more stress and distractions than any generation before them and most of them do it better than adults. Our students will always be my “main thing.”

• I get to be a TeamMate mentor that works with an awesome 8th grader each week. I get to listen to things through his eyes.

• I get to be involved with Special Olympics Nebraska, which is one of the most rewarding things I’ve been lucky enough to do.

• I see the uncharted enthusiasm and excitement in Kindergarten students. Every day is a great day for them. I wish we all had their energy and passion for learning.

• I have been able to meet unbelievably talented professionals like Greg Barnes at ESU 11, Jim Sutfin in Millard, Aaron Plas at Lakeview, Teresa Schnoor in Kearney, and John Skretta at Norris.

• I’ve worked with phenomenal leaders like Mark Adler, Mike Teahon, Melissa Wheelock, and Caroline Winchester.

• I’ve gotten to know young bloods like Lance Smith that keep me energized and ready to do more.

• I’ve been able to learn from great leaders at NCSA like Mike Dulaney and Dan Ernst and from NASB leaders like John Spatz.

• I get to have meaningful one-on-one conversations with our state’s Commissioner of Education, Dr. Matt Blomstedt, a guy I really admire. Wow, life is good!

• I get to go to Speech Meets, One-Act plays, concerts, and Fine Arts Banquets. For FREE!

• I get to learn about aquaponics from our FFA.

• I get to go to all kinds of sporting events and spelling bees and Flag Appreciation Days and enjoy every single one of them!
• I get to learn about robotics and entrepreneurship from middle schoolers!

• I work with an awesome board of education that is truly a team. They study issues, discuss them, and do what is best for our students. I enjoy each and every one of them.

• Social media has allowed me to connect with former students and staff from Fort Leavenworth, Labette County, West Point, and Franklin. I cherish each of those stops throughout my career and the many impactful relationships I was lucky enough to have along the way.

• Every single day, I get to see so many young people with bright futures. It truly is a blessing! Working in education is the perfect career for me. It is so rewarding, challenging, and always changing.

Yes, I have to deal with upset people. Yes, some people hate my guts. Yes, it can get tiring to hear 548 complaints about YPS for every positive we hear. Yes, dealing with energy suckers like the foot stomper and the back stabber gets old.

However, the positives heavily outweigh the negatives. When all is said and done, I love my job. I love York Public Schools. I love who I work with, and like my voicemail says, “every day is a great day to be a York Duke!”