Tuesday, August 15, 2017

45 Years Old and Still Learning

I turned 45 years old on August 14th so I felt it was fitting for this week's blog to share some of the things I've learned in those 45 years. In education, we often talk about "lifelong learners" and that is what I hope I can be. Sometimes, I'm a slow learner. Sometimes, I'm a reluctant learner. I just hope I can keep on learning as I will always be a "work in progress."

* Things are typically never as bad as you think they are....things are typically never as good as you think they are...it's easier to not get too low or too high...the swing of emotions from one extreme to the other can wear you out! Stay the course and don't get too excited or too depressed about a current situation...it can, and will, change often in most instances...

* Listening to actually listen and comprehend another person's point-of-view is way better than listening just so you can respond and debate your point of view

* There are many great people in the world, and certainly in Nebraska. Too often, we focus on selfish and entitled energy vampires that are unable to be happy for others instead of the energetic, positive, and enthusiastic people we should surround ourselves with. Cutting out as much fake from your life as you can allows you to focus on people that really matter.

* Learn to enjoy the small victories along the way because there will always be bigger challenges and adversities on the horizon. If you can't celebrate when given the opportunity, it is going to be hard to maintain your enthusiasm and sanity. Try not to let "losses" in your life hurt more than the "victories" in life feel good....it's hard to do...

* Have high expectations for yourself and be your own harshest critic but also give yourself a break from time to time. None of us are perfect and we need to be able to forgive ourselves once in a while.

* Good things happen to people that work hard.

* Black jellybeans aren't as good as purple jellybeans and pink ones are the tastiest of them all.

* When you're having a bad day, visit a kindergarten classroom as it is sure to put a smile on your face.

* It's the "little fish that steal the bait." By this, I mean it is often the little issues that cause big problems. Provide plenty of "attention to detail." Double-check on things. Beat a dead horse. Make sure that i's are dotted and t's are crossed. Some people will make fun of you for doing so but they'll also be glad you do when they have to count on you.

* You're going to get criticized for anything/everything you do. Be true to yourself. Be strong in your convictions and do what you think is best.

* Facebook and social media isn't real life...everyone is NOT living a happier and more successful life than you are...

* Control what you can control and don't spend too much energy on things beyond your control

* Always be thankful for what you can do instead of focusing on what you can't do...we need more positive in the world

* We need to get rid of Democrats and Republicans and focus on Americans....

* Spend time with your grandparents whenever you have the opportunity....your older self will be glad you did

* People that make fun of others for how they look, how much they weigh, what color their skin is, or how they talk are despicable....be kind...we all get one shot at life....be supportive of others even if they look different than you or believe differently than you do...

These are just some of the things that I've learned in 45 years. I need to be a better husband and dad in the next 45 years. I need to exhibit more patience, better voice tone, and more understanding of stressful situations and how they impact those around me. Here's to another 45-years!

Monday, August 7, 2017

YOU'RE INVITED -- YPS Budget and Tax Request Meetings


Our school board and administration remains committed to being very transparent about our budget, property tax request, planning for the future, controlling our spending, etc.

I am hosting two special meetings for anyone that wishes to attend to learn more about school finance and the main cogs of the YPS budget and tax request. FREE coffee and some light snacks will be available to all attendees. Bring a friend! The meetings will take place at our District Administration building at 1715 N. Delaware Avenue on the east side of the York High School campus. These meetings typically last 75-90 minutes.
• Wednesday, August 30th at 8:00 AM
• Friday, September 8th at 8:00 AM

We will show attendees what our 2017-18 budget will look like compared to 2015-16, 2016-17, and other prior years. Our 2016-17 fiscal year ends on August 31st and we will show less than a 0.002% spending increase since 2014-15. Revenue for 2016-17 will be around $700,000 less than 2015-16 despite an increase in our local property tax request of over $1 million.

You’ll also receive an informative update on a coalition that we helped form called “Nebraskans United for Property Tax Reform and Education” that has Nebraska Farmers Union, Nebraska Farm Bureau, and other ag organizations working hand-in-hand with K-12 education organizations on property tax reform and education funding initiatives. Below is a quick snapshot of our guiding principles.
• Nebraska must reduce property taxes to ensure a fair and balanced tax system.
o Nebraska ranks 49th in the country in the percentage of K-12 funding that comes from the state.
o Nebraskans pays the 7th highest effective property tax rate in the nation.
• To fund the state budget, we need a tax system that is fair and balanced for all Nebraska taxpayers. Nebraska’s taxpayers need a significant reduction in property taxes.
o Nebraska K-12 schools receive 33% of their funding from state sources while the national average is 47%.
o Nebraska K-12 schools receive 49% of their funding from local property taxes while the national average is 29%.

If you’re unable to make it on August 30th or September 8th, feel free to come to our board of education meeting on September 11th at 7:00 PM or call me to set up a special time that works for you. We want to communicate at a high level and make sure the patrons of York Public Schools are well informed of what is going on in the world of education funding and an over-reliance on local property taxes.

Go Dukes,

Mike Lucas
402-366-6491 (cell)

Friday, August 4, 2017

Preparing to "Set Sail" for our 2017-18 "Voyage"

There's no "tired" like "August tired" for professional educators. No matter how much we get accomplished in June and July, August always hits us like a vicious Mike Tyson uppercut. We have to manage the chaos, stress, and pressure to ensure that our 2016-17 fiscal year wraps up just as our 2017-18 school year gets going. It's hectic but we wouldn't have it any other way!

The first 10-12 days of August are much like preparing for a long voyage. You have to prepare, double-check, over-plan, ensure proper procedures, communicate, provide tremendous attention to detail, and come up with alternative plans for when adversity strikes.

Now entering my 24th year in education, and 15th as a superintendent, I am more thankful than ever for our STUDENTS.

Working FOR kids is what makes education such a rewarding career. To be completely honest, I couldn't do this job if it was just for adults. Having a small hand in removing obstacles and creating opportunities for our young people is what motivates us to put up with all of the stress that comes with this profession. You navigate the brutal days by remembering "the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing" and that is the needs of your students.

The stakes get higher every year. I can't remember the last time anything got dropped off our "to-do list" but things get added all the time. We're doing more than we've ever done; and we're doing it with less funding. Our students deserve our best each and every day and that's what they're going to get. We won't let them down.

As leaders of the school district, we'll need to bring more energy and excitement to work than we ever have before. We have to have "labrador enthusiasm" that is contagious and makes everyone around us excited about York Public Schools. We have to believe that 2017-18 is going to be our best voyage yet. It's about time to set sail!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Salute to Exceptional STEP-PARENTS

Brenda Lucas is my dad's second wife of almost 40 years. On paper, she is my "step mom." In my heart, she is "mom" just like my biological mom. I love them both very much.

Last July 31st, Brenda had a heart attack in an airport in Arizona and flat-lined twice. She was brought back from death two different times. It was the worst phone call I've ever received in my life. As this July 31st rolls around, we are so fortunate to be able to send her a plant, card, and well wishes. She is doing better than ever and looks and feels amazing.

Brenda is a wonderful mom, mother-in-law, and grandma. She goes by "Oma" as her "grandma name."

I wanted to share this because there are so many outstanding "step-parents" out there that make a positive difference in the lives of kids every day. I salute all step-parents that love and support their step-kids like Brenda took me in.

Below is the message I put in a card for her to receive on Monday, the 1-year "anniversary" of her near fatal episode.


We love you very much! We are so thankful that you survived the heart attack last July 31st. That was the scariest phone call I've ever received and I just can't put into words how blessed we feel that you made it through.

You know, I've never really felt comfortable with the word "step-mom" because that doesn't do justice to what you mean to me. YOU are a major reason that I've been able to find some success as an adult.

When you came into my life, things could have "zigged" or "zagged" for the better or worse. You never resented the craziness that came along with my side of the family and the wounds from the divorce between my dad and other mom. You always treated me like your biological son. You never made my dad "choose" between time with me or time with you. From my very first memories with you, it's always been kindness, unselfishness, and love.

You helped make my dad into the great man he is today. You helped make our family stronger. I see so many young people today that have horrible situations that pop up through divorced parents, step-parents, etc. and I just can't thank you enough for being my MOM and not a "step-mom."

I just can't thank you enough for what you mean to me, what you mean to Liesl as a mother-in-law, or what you mean to our kids as Oma. You're a very special person.

You're one of the people I admire most in the world. Your calm demeanor, acceptance of others, unselfishness, and kind spirit motivate me each day.

I look forward to sending you a plant or a card on July 31st for decades to come. I love you as my MOM and that is such a special feeling for me to have.

Thank you for being amazing. You've impacted my life in more ways than I can express.

The link below is to a song by Brad Paisley about "step dads" so the words don't align perfectly for you and I but you will get the point...."You didn't have to be" so wonderful to me but you were/are and that makes a positive difference in my life every day.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017


Our 2017-18 school year begins in 28 days on August 16th. I can't wait. Our theme for the year is "BE ONE." It has a double meaning that we will emphasize with students, staff, and community throughout the year.

First off, "BE ONE" is about being TOGETHER....we're ALL just a bunch of YORK DUKES. We're all part of the YPS FAMILY. We are ONE. We need to be there to help each other celebrate successes because we will have many this year. We need to be there to help each other overcome adversity because there will be plenty of that too! Whether you work at YES, YMS, YHS, the district office, pre-school, enrichment center or bus barn, we are ONE...we are York Dukes. We serve "The Y" of York Public Schools. Our duty is to make our school district better. We can't operate in silos and only worry about just our classroom or school. We're a total organization that is trying to become and stay elite in every way. Whether you're a teacher, cook, custodian, para, driver, nurse, mechanic, administrator, administrative assistant, coach, sponsor, or anything else, we're ONE as a team and work family. "BE ONE" is about being together and being part of a bigger picture that is more important than any one individual, team, building, program, or group.

Another meaning of our "BE ONE" theme is for each individual York Duke to strive to "BE ONE" that does exemplary things. BE ONE of those teachers that believes in ALL of your students and helps instill hope in everything they do. BE ONE of those teachers that does whatever needs to be done to help each student in your class learn the content they need. BE ONE of those teachers that leads with such a positive energy that others can't help but notice. BE ONE of those school employees that takes pride in everything you do, whether it is washing lunch trays, answering phones, mowing and pulling weeds, emptying trash, driving a bus, or working with small groups of students. BE ONE of those school administrators that is super-organized and willing and able to have difficult conversations as needed. BE ONE of those coaches and sponsors that helps each kid in your program feel worthy and a sense of accomplishment. BE ONE of those students that is kind to all others and won't tolerate bullying or lackluster effort. BE ONE of those students that takes advantage of the amazing opportunities you have in York. BE ONE of those students that lifts others up instead of trying to tear them down. BE ONE that is a leader and is respectful and a tremendous representative of our town, our school system, and your family.

BE ONE that does whatever has to be done, whenever it has to be done, however it has to be done to make YPS better. BE ONE that makes a positive difference every day!


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Trust, Sustainability, and Economic Development

The more and more involved I get with "school funding" and "property tax reform" the more convinced I am that we have a huge lack of trust between school districts and the legislature. Let me explain...for decades, schools have been accused of spending too much money, of "manipulating the system" to earn more equalization aid from the state, etc. You will hear some current and former state senators lament that "schools will spend $10 to earn $1 more in equalization aid." On the other hand, schools will be quick to point out that we've been promised "adequate" and "sustainable" funding many times in the past only to have the carpet pulled out from underneath us on a very routine basis. Trust is broken on both sides and it's not easy trying to build it back up.

School districts aren't able to operate as proactively as we would like because we have no idea what our revenue will be from year to year. Think about it, being able to reasonably project revenue with which you create a budget around for this year, next year, and two years down the road can help you become much more efficient. You can be strategic about large-ticket purchases like school buses, curriculum adoptions, technology upgrades, etc. Being proactive is always better than reactive. School boards get lambasted in the court of public opinion when they deal with a valuation increase but don't drop the levy and local tax request. Perhaps many school boards do that because they are terrified about what the next year will bring on the revenue side. You see, us "school folks" know that TEEOSA, the funding formula used here in Nebraska, has only been fully funded 3 times in the past 16 years. We know the system and how "the game" gets played legislatively and that when the state is short of money, they reduce their support to public education knowing good and well that local property taxes will fill in the gap they've created. Trust is broken on both sides and it's not easy trying to build it back up.

Many of us K-12 leaders are working hard through our local school boards and "Nebraskans United for Property Tax Reform and Education" to come up with viable solutions that will cut down on our over-reliance on local property taxes and allow for more sustainability when it comes to adequately and consistently funding high quality public schools in our state. It's a difficult and landmine filled task. Our state has an addiction to local property taxes to pay for local services. Several powerful people and organizations want to keep it that way while the vast majority of "regular Nebraskans" are literally begging for a new method of funding K-12 education and the bullets below show why!

** Nebraska K-12 schools receive 49% of their funding from local property taxes while the national average is 29%.
** YPS receives about 72% of our funding from local property taxes.

** Nebraska K-12 schools receive 33% of their funding from state sources while the national average is 47%.
** YPS receives about 18% of our funding from state sources.

Here in York, we're working towards wrapping up the 2016-17 fiscal year on August 31st. It's a fiscal year that will have us spending less than we spent in 2015-16 or 2014-15. Unfortunately, it's also a year that will see our revenue decrease by $800,000 from 2015-16 and $700,000 from 2014-15.

As we look ahead to 2017-18, the picture gets even worse. Our revenue is projected to "rebound" back up by $100,000; leaving us still way behind what we received in 2014-15 or 2015-16. Our valuation has flat-lined which is great news for our property owners but we aren't receiving any state money to fill in the gap. In fact, our total amount of state equalization aid will be $166,556. We were at $3.7 million in 2009. Keep in mind that in 2017-18, we will educate about 150 more students in 2017-18 than we did in 2009.

Our average annual spending increase will be 1.3% over the past eight years with a 0% increase since 2014-15. Curriculum adoption will be delayed again. We'll try to get another year out of our 28-year old bus.

"Trust" and "sustainability of adequate school funding" are two things I'm working hard on with my colleagues and elected officials. We have to improve both if we're going to make the monumental improvements necessary here in Nebraska.

One parting shot I would like to address is the importance of "economic development" in each community across our state. I know I sound like a "homer" but to me, K-12 education is about as big of an economic development force that any community can have. If a community doesn't have a highly effective K-12 school system, they're not going to make it. They're not going to attract new businesses or retain existing ones. They're not going to attract families to move in or to stay. In many small towns, the school district's activities are THE economic stimulus that they rely on. When I lived in Franklin, there wasn't much that brought folks to town like our awesome concerts, plays, and athletic contests. Those were the best revenue nights for our one restaurant, The Black Powder. Those were the days that our three gas stations were busy and even ol' Rightway Grocery got some extra business.

The Nebraska State Chamber of Commerce continues their negative take on Nebraska's K-12 public schools. They are quick to point out how much property tax revenue we use, how much education costs, etc. They send out one-sided info on our student assessment scores leaving the perception our schools are under-delivering and over-spending. It's a downright shame they're not proud of the fact that Nebraska's public schools have one of the highest graduation rates in the nation. It's sad they're not promoting the fact that Nebraska's public schools have the highest average ACT score in the nation for the 15+ states that have 80% or more of their kids taking the ACT. It's unfortunate the State Chamber doesn't understand the tremendous gains made all across the state on the Nebraska State Assessments since 2010. It's unbelievable they don't celebrate the extremely innovative "career education programming" in place in numerous school districts/communities across the state. Little 'ol York has 14 career academies, internship programming, work certification offerings, multiple business partnerships, and a manufacturing class. There's LOTS to be proud of!

York Public Schools has an amazing relationship with our local Chamber of Commerce. We partner up for numerous events. We appreciate each other. Many other communities and local Chambers enjoy the same level of respect and partnership. It's too bad the State Chamber of Commerce doesn't do the same.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Size Matters but Leadership is Leadership

Leadership is leadership regardless of the size of an organization. The same tenets and principles that we focused on in Franklin, a school district of 350 students, are the same ones we focus on in York, a school district of about 1,400 students. Guess what, they're the same ones I would focus on in a huge district as well if/when that ever happens.

Attention to detail, clarity of purpose, communication, follow-through, reciprocal accountability, high expectations, keeping the main thing (students) the main thing, labrador enthusiasm, insane work ethic, integrity, unselfishness, servant-mindedness, more follow-through, results-driven, action oriented, public relations, instructional leadership, even more follow-through, more communication, and relentless pursuit of improvement are strategies that work in any size organization. The only difference is how many people you have to get to buy in.

Franklin was a 2-person administrative team....we discussed the above tenets during lunch duty and put plans in place to ensure our school district was moving in the right direction like our hair was on fire. Here in York, we have formal admin team meetings twice a month for about 90-minutes each time and we use the same strategies. I would assume the same strategies are in place in Grand Island, LPS, OPS, and others.

Us small districts deal with the same issues that our colleagues in larger districts encounter; it's just on a different scale. The public relations plan we use in York with one newspaper and one radio station is most likely very similar to what is used in Omaha....they just have more media to deal with. The curriculum and instruction initiatives we have in place here are a lot like what they use in Lincoln....they just have more teachers going through it. The facilities planning in Grand Island or Papillion is a very similar approach to what we use in York....they just have more buildings. The quality processes and strategies are the same; it's just the quantity that changes.

I don't write this to offend anyone...it's just that sometimes too many people look at size to determine a school district's worth, or the value of an individual. It's not necessarily true that leaders of larger organizations are better than leaders of smaller ones. It's not necessarily true that teachers at a Class A school are better than teachers at a Class B school just because of the size of the facility.

Size matters but it is the size of each individual person's drive, heart, and passion....not the square footage of a facility, the number of students in their district, or how many people they try and lead.