Sam Zeff

Education Reporter

Sam covers education for KCUR and is co-host of the political podcast Statehouse Blend. Before joining the station in August 2014 he covered health and education for KCPT.

Sam began his career at KANU in Lawrence. He hosted Morning Edition at WHYY in Philadelphia where he also covered organized crime, politics and government corruption.

The Overland Park, Kansas native has won a National News and Documentary Emmy for investigative reporting, four Edward R. Murrow awards and four National Headliner Awards.  Sam was assistant news director at the ABC station in the Twin Cities, executive producer at the NBC station in St. Louis and executive producer of special projects at the CBS stations in Minneapolis and Kansas City.

Sam was educated at the University of Kansas.

Ways to Connect

KHI News Service

The Vice President of the Kansas Senate says the special session set to gavel in on Thursday will probably stretch into early next week. That would move the Legislature even closer to a June 30 school shutdown deadline, and make the session longer than Gov. Sam Brownback suggested it would take to fix the inequity that exists between rich and poor school districts in Kansas.

“We’re probably looking at more like three to five days if all goes well,” Sen. Jeff King from Independence said on KCUR's political podcast Statehouse Blend.

The Kansas Board of Regents met Wednesday afternoon to approve tuition increases for the next school year. The board thought it was going to do that last month, but during the meeting Gov. Sam Brownback announced he was cutting an additional $30 million out of higher education.

So, at their last regular meeting until September, the Regents found themselves having to approve even higher tuition hikes.

Sam Zeff
KCUR 89.3

The man who spent 14 years in the top job in the St. Joseph School District pleaded guilty Monday morning in federal court to one count of wire fraud. Under a deal with the U.S. Attorney, Dan Colgan will spend a year and a day in federal prison.

Colgan will also have to repay $660,000 in a lump sum to the Missouri Public School Retirement System (PSRS). Colgan improperly padded the last three years of his salary using stipends, car allowances and other means. The school board knew about some of the payments but often they did not.

After two years of investigation, a former St. Joseph School District superintendent and school board president will be charged with a federal crime.

Dan Colgan who, associates say grew up as a brawler on St. Joseph's north side, has two court dates Monday morning in federal court in Kansas City.

According to the district court, Colgan will appear before a magistrate and then before a district court judge. While we don't know exactly what he'll be charged with, these hearings indicate a plea deal is in the works.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR 89.3

On this week's Statehouse Blend podcast, we bring you an in-depth look at what is shaping up to be a competitive 2016 election year in Kansas.

Guests on this episode:

Sam Zeff
KCUR 89.3

While most school districts in Kansas prepare for a possible shutdown at the end of the month, educators are looking for some guidance from the state Department of Education (KSDE).       

Everyone is waiting to see whether there will be a special session of the Kansas Legislature to try and fix the inequity between rich and poor districts.

If it’s not fixed by the end of the month, the state Supreme Court has said it will prohibit districts from spending or raising money.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR 89.3

On this week's Statehouse Blend podcast, we bring you an in-depth look at what is shaping up to be a competitive 2016 election year in Kansas.

Guests on this episode:

Sam Zeff
KCUR 89.3

For the first time, someone in leadership in the Kansas Legislature has called for a special session to craft a solution to school funding inequity that will satisfy the state Supreme Court and head off a possible shutdown of schools by month's end.

Rep. Ron Ryckman from Olathe, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, sent a letter addressed to "Colleagues" suggesting now is the time to act.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

While many school districts in Kansas are preparing plans for a possible shutdown by the state Supreme Court, the Shawnee Mission School District in Johnson County, Kansas, says it will be open on July 1.

Superintendent Jim Hinson says he’s making no contingency plans in case the high court says schools must cease operating.

"We will be open on July 1 and we will start on time in August," says Hinson.

Sam Zeff
KCUR 89.3

Now that the Kansas Supreme Court has ruled that the Legislature failed to fix inequity, school districts must seriously plan for a possible shut down on June 30.

Here's some questions school officials and parents may be asking.

Are the schools really going to close on June 30?

AP Pool Photo
AP Pool Photo

The Kansas Supreme Court has handed down its decision in the long-awaited Gannon school funding case, and it comes as no surprise to those who have followed its many twists and turns.   

“This case requires us to determine whether the State has met its burden to show that recent legislation brings the State's K-12 public school funding system into compliance with Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution,” the court wrote in an opinion not attributable to any individual judge. “We hold it has not.”

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

Two more former high-ranking members of the St. Joseph School District have repaid tens of thousands of dollars to the Missouri state retirement system after it was discovered they inflated their incomes.

The Public School Retirement System (PSRS) has confirmed that Mark Hargens has repaid $90,000 and former superintendent Melody Smith has repaid $23,000.

AP pool photo

The Senate race in Kansas isn't expected to be competitive and the governor isn't on the ballot this fall. So, the hardest fought statewide campaign might just involve four people you’ve never heard of.

For the first time ever there will be a coordinated effort to oust state Supreme Court justices.

The bad blood between the state Supreme Court and conservatives in Kansas goes back ten years to when the justices ordered the state to pump more than $500 million dollars more into public education.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR 89.3

As the Missouri and Kansas 2016 legislative sessions come to an end, Statehouse Blend hosts, Sam Zeff and Brian Ellison, discuss the most impactful and surprising events on both sides of the state line with the assistance of guest host, Kyle Palmer.

Dyche Hall, University of Kansas
Ajohnson360 / CC

The regular meeting of the Kansas Board of Regents Wednesday already had a bit of a somber tone; all six universities came in with tuition hike requests between 3.3 percent and 5 percent. In a 109-page document the schools detailed increased expenses and an anticipated 3 percent cut from the state.

For those who don't closely follow college sports, and even for those who do, there are some things that might strike you as unusual about coaches’ contracts.

Rarely is their salary what they really make.

Bill Self's contract at the University of Kansas is a good example.

Both top KU coaches, David Beaty (left) and Bill Self, have LLCs that reduce the amount they owe in Kansas income taxes.
KCUR 89.3/CC

Among the nearly 334,000 Kansas businesses that owe no state income taxes thanks to the Brownback administration’s 2012 tax cuts is one called BCLT II, LLC.

BCLT II happens to be owned by Bill Self, the legendary University of Kansas men’s basketball head coach.

Under his 2012 contract with KU, Self pulls down a salary of $230,000 a year. But that’s just a small part of his compensation.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR 89.3

As the Missouri and Kansas 2016 legislative sessions come to an end, Statehouse Blend hosts, Sam Zeff and Brian Ellison, discuss the most impactful and surprising events on both sides of the state line with the assistance of guest host, Kyle Palmer.

AP pool photo

After two and a half hours of oral arguments, the Kansas Supreme Court will now decide whether the state Legislature has solved — in the least — the equity portion of school funding and whether schools will remain open past a June 30 court imposed deadline.

The Kansas Board of Regents Monday issued a strong statement after the Legislature approved a budget that cuts $17 million out of higher education next year. The Regents say the cut is shortsighted and will damage the state's economy.

“To extend any cuts into next year would be detrimental to the future prosperity of Kansas,” Chairman Shane Bangerter said.

In 13 states, parents and school districts are suing, saying schools aren't getting enough money to serve the needs of students.

In no other state are the courts more baked in to school funding than in Kansas, though.

There, the state Supreme Court will hear arguments on the latest funding case within the next week. If justices don't approve of the legislators' fix to the system, the court could shut down public schools on June 30.

On this week's Statehouse Blend podcast, reporters dissect what we've seen so far and what we can expect as the Kansas Legislative session heads to a close. 

Guests:

St. Joseph School District

Update: April 26 at 10:15 am

The Missouri Public Schools Retirement System said in a letter to the St. Joseph District that Dan Colgan's retirement date was moved from July 1, 2005 to January 1, 2006. That means he improperly received pensions benefits for six months.

In what is the largest settlement in the history of the teacher’s pension system in Missouri, the former superintendent and school board president in the St. Joseph School District will pay back $660,000 in retirement benefits he did not earn.

Stephan Koranda / KPR

The final paperwork has been filed, and now Kansas educators and lawmakers await the May 10 showdown in the state Supreme Court over whether the state is equitably funding public education.

In a 208 page brief filed today with the Court, the plaintiff districts, including Kansas City, Kansas, say the bill passed in the Legislature's waning days does nothing more than move money around the system, could widen the gap between rich and poor districts, calling the whole attempt a "shell game".

Stephen Koranda / KPR

In a much anticipated filing with the Kansas Supreme Court,  state Attorney General Derek Schmidt says problems with equity in school funding have been solved and there's no reason for the high court to consider shutting down public education on June 30.

“The Legislature’s good-faith, careful, reasoned and well-documented determination should be given substantial deference,” said Schmidt's 25-page brief filed late Friday afternoon.

Kansas Legislature

The vice chairman of the Kansas Senate Ways and Means Committee says he's been told by Gov. Sam Brownback that the governor might consider rolling back a major portion of his signature 2012 tax cut bill.

Sen. Jim Denning, a Republican from Overland Park, joined KCUR's Statehouse Blend Podcast this weekend and told host Sam Zeff that Brownback might not veto a bill that would close the loophole that allows more then 300,000 small businesses in Kansas to avoid state income tax.

Wikimedia Commons

The Kansas Board of Regents has appointed retired U.S. Air Force General and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers as the interim president at Kansas State University.

Myers will take over from Kirk Schulz, who leaves next month for a job at Washington State University.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

Summer is a time that all educators dread to some degree. No matter how well students do during the school year there is generally some slippage during the summer break.

That's especially true in urban districts like the Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS).

The district has expanded its summer school offerings over the past few years and says it expects more students to enroll this summer.

Olathe Public Schools

Update 4/8/16 at 4:45 pm

The Rogers School District confirms that Marlin Berry has signed a three year contract that will pay him $215,754 a year with no stated raises built into the contract. His current salary in Olathe is $231,263. That was set to jump to $250,126 had he stayed until the 2017-2018 school year.

Another superintendent from another big metro school district is leaving for another job.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

Two things have emerged as Mark Bedell prepares to take over as superintendent for the Kansas City Public Schools; he has plenty of support from the district and he's ready to take over the growing charter school movement in the city.

“I’m very competitive. And we are losing kids to the charter schools so they are a competitor,” Bedell said at a news conference at Paseo Academy.

While Bedell said he would foster a "cordial" relationship with the city's charter schools, he says the district must do better in attracting them to KCPS.

Pages