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.

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Maria Carter / KCUR 89.3

Another metro school district is at a contract impasse with its teachers.

Teachers and the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools are heading into non-binding fact finding after failing to reach a deal.

The two sides held talks with a mediator twice last month but that also failed to result in a contract.

Teachers and the district say the dispute is not over how much of a pay hike to give but rather how to distribute the two percent raise.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

It’s getting harder to fill teaching positions in Kansas, especially in rural and urban districts.

In a report released in August, KSDE talked about the challenges the state faces to make sure there is a reliable source of teachers in the future and how to maintain a veteran teaching corps. "Kansas isn’t experiencing a greying of the profession but actually a greening," said the report.

But there’s a new program at Kansas State University to help fill the need.      

It used to be pretty easy to at fill open jobs for elementary teachers in Kansas.

Miguel Vieira / Flickr - CC

During the 20th year of the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, outside of Strong City, Kansas, a new documentary explores how the park was created and is sustained. Then, we learn about the life of Forrest "Phog" Allen, who amassed 590 wins in 39 seasons coaching the KU men's basketball team.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

It only took the Olathe Board of Education about 20 minutes to approve the hiring of a new superintendent for substantially more money than it paid the previous top administrator.

On a unanimous vote, the board hired John Allison, the current superintendent in Wichita, with a base salary of $250,000.

Marlin Berry, who resigned in April, was making $231,263.

KBA

In a budget year that remains challenging for many school districts in Kansas, 34 districts got some bad news Friday afternoon.

The state sold the investment portfolio of the Kansas Bioscience Authority (KBA) for $14 million. That's far below the $25 million it was estimated to generate. 

The KBA's sale was part of  a complicated deal to fix school inequity in the state. Money over $25 million was to be used to help fund that settlement, approved by the state Supreme Court after a special legislative session in July.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

Mark Bedell has been superintendent in the Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) for 100 days and he's making one thing clear to the Board of Education, his staff and parents: things are going to change.

Bedell issued his so-called 100 Day Plan to the Board Wednesday.

Bedell's plan calls for more transparency, more autonomy for building principals and more intensity around recruiting and retaining teachers.

Wichita Public Schools

The superintendent from the biggest school district in Kansas is the "sole finalist" for the top job in Olathe Public Schools.

The district says the school board is expected to finalize the appointment of John Allison at its meeting Monday.

Allison has lead the Wichita district since 2009.  Before that, he was superintendent in the Mt. Lebanon School District in Pennsylvania and has been an administrator in Texas and the Shawnee Mission School District.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR 89.3

On this week's episode of Statehouse Blend Kansas, House Speaker nominee Ron Ryckman (R-Olathe) talks about school funding, taxes, and what he expects from the upcoming session.

Guests:

Matt Hodapp / KCUR 89.3

On this week's episode of Statehouse Blend Kansas, newly elected Rep. Cindy Holscher (D-Overland Park) discusses the LLC tax loophole, Medicaid expansion, and school finance.

Guests:

  • Cindy Holscher, Representative (D-Overland Park), House of Representatives
  • Dan Margolies, Heartland Health Monitor Editor, KCUR

Olathe School District

The Olathe Public Schools issued a statement Thursday morning about racial incidents reported at Olathe North High School.

Principal Jason Herman informed parents Wednesday.

"I wanted to make you aware of some very concerning behavior recently occurring at North. We have had several incidents in which students were harassed based on their race and/or ethnicity," he said in a letter.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

Electing a new president is usually not a cause for great alarm in schools.

But teachers say Donald Trump’s election is causing students to turn on one another and pitting teacher against teacher.

On Wednesday, Olathe North High School Principal Jason Herman sent a letter to parents saying, "We have had several incidents in which students were harassed based on their race and/or ethnicity."

Herman called the behavior "intolerable" and promised swift action by the administration.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR 89.3

On this week's episode of Statehouse Blend Kansas, newly elected Rep. Cindy Holscher (D-Overland Park) discusses the LLC tax loophole, Medicaid expansion, and school finance.

Guests:

  • Cindy Holscher, Representative (D-Overland Park), House of Representatives
  • Dan Margolies, Heartland Health Monitor Editor, KCUR

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

The Shawnee Mission School District board and its superintendent faced a packed room of very unhappy parents and teachers Monday night.

The district has come under fire for strongly suggesting to staff that they refrain from wearing safety pins. The pins are seen by many as a sign to students that they're in a safe place, but some see the pins as a protest of the election of Donald Trump.

Before the meeting even started, board President Sara Goodburn made it very clear: We'll listen to your concerns but we're not changing our minds.

iStock

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas has stepped into the battle over whether teachers in the Shawnee Mission School District can wear safety pins.

The district has strongly urged staff to refrain from wearing safety pins saying they have become a political symbol. Others have argued the pins simply tell students who feel threatened after the presidential election that they have a safe person to talk to about issues.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR 89.3

On this week's episode of Statehouse Blend Kansas and Statehouse Blend Missouri, hosts Brian Ellison and Sam Zeff talk with KCUR's Peggy Lowe and Amy Jeffries about the future of the Kansas and Missouri Statehouses going forward after the 2016 elections.

Guests:

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

Everyone knew what the judge was going to do Thursday in an 8th floor federal courtroom in downtown Kansas City when former St. Joseph School District superintendent Dan Colgan appeared for sentencing.

Still, there were a couple of surprises.

Kansas Supreme Court

After roughly a million dollars in TV and radio ads plus a blizzard of postcards, the Kansas Supreme Court didn't change one bit with Tuesday's elections.

With a majority of precincts reporting, all four of the justices who had been targeted by the Republican Party, Kansans for Life and other conservative groups comfortably won retention.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR 89.3

On this special elections episode of Statehouse Blend Kansas and Statehouse Blend Missouri, hosts Sam Zeff and Brian Ellison discuss results and us give an idea of where things stand in Kansas and Missouri.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR 89.3

On this week's episode of the Statehouse Blend Kansas podcast, KCUR reporter Elle Moxley and panelists Mark Tallman from the Kansas Association of School Boards and Dave Trabert, President of the Kansas Policy Institute, take an in-depth look at the future of education in Kansas.

This episode of Statehouse Blend Kansas was recorded live at the Johnson County Library Central Branch.

Webmaster102 / Wikimedia Commons

One outcome of the 2016 elections that we know already: the make-up of the Kansas Legislature will be different.

That raises some questions, like this one our Kansas elections coverage team got from Cynthia in Leawood:

Is it possible that Kansas will elect enough moderates to reverse the open carry gun policies in KS, especially on college campuses? Would Brownback veto such a measure?

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

Education political action committees in Kansas are spreading around tens of thousands of dollars to help both conservative and moderate legislative candidates.

There are two big education political action committees in Kansas and they back very different candidates.

The Kansas NEA PAC is funded by contributions solicited by the union and in the last reporting period made about $29,000 in campaign contributions and spent $12,400 on polling.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR 89.3

On this week's episode of Statehouse Blend Kansas, Rep. Russell Jennings (R-Lakin) discusses the 2016 election, guns on college campuses, education funding, and his campaign for speaker of the house.

Guests:

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

The statewide team that's been collaborating to cover elections in Kansas this year is taking your questions

John Trewolla from Prairie Village sent us this one:

I sure am curious about whether and how the Koch brothers from Wichita are influencing the GOP (especially Brownback's) campaign. Not to put too fine a point on it, is Brownback in their pocket?

Matt Hodapp / KCUR 89.3

On this week's episode of the Statehouse Blend Kansas podcast, former Democratic Representative, Melody McCray-Miller, and former Gov. Bill Graves' Communications Director, Mike Matson, attempt to decode the political spin of this election season.

This episode of Statehouse Blend Kansas was recorded live at The Anchor in Wichita, Kan.

Guests:

bigstock.com

In a sign of just how close a few legislative races are in Kansas, someone has paid for so-called push polling in three contests.

A push poll uses unflattering questions about someone to "push" the voter in the direction of their opponent. It has no scientific value and is recognized as negative, if not downright dirty, campaigning.

The first TV spot has landed in the contentious battle to retain four Kansas Supreme Court justices in the November Election. The ad was paid for by Kansans for Fair Courts, the group backing retention.

The 30-second spot will start airing in the Wichita market on Friday and it takes on the two biggest issues Republicans and other conservatives are using against four of the five justices on the ballot: the death penalty and school finance.

Emory Maiden / Flickr - CC

After two of sessions with a federal mediator, the union representing Shawnee Mission teachers says it's reached a deal with the district.

The two sides declared an impasse back in July and met with the mediator once last month and then finalized the tentative deal last Thursday.

Shawnee Mission will put 0.65 percent more into salaries in the new contract, says union president Linda Sieck. That will cost the district, she says, about $2.9 million dollars more this year.

Sieck says this is a modest increase but everyone is worried about the worsening Kansas budget.

Kansas Supreme Court

It’s been a half century since Kansas has executed a convicted killer and generally speaking, it’s not much of a political issue in the state.

But conservatives are banking on capital punishment in their campaign to oust four state Supreme Court justices.

When it comes to whether or not the Supreme Court justices should be kept on the bench or voted out, we’ve heard mostly about school finance and whether the high court should even be a player in that.

But lurking in the background, especially around Wichita and in western Kansas, is the death penalty.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR 89.3

On this week's episode of Statehouse Blend Kansas, Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) discuss a new policy plan, education funding, and the upcoming elections.

Guests:

Jim McLean
KHI News Service

Kansas received more bad financial news on Monday when the state said tax collections in September missed projections by $45 million.

Since the new fiscal year started July 1, Kansas has collected $68 million less than expected.

But one state House leader is trying to put a good face on a bleak picture.

In an email to colleagues Sunday, Rep. Ron Ryckman, the conservative House budget chairman from Olathe, said lawmakers are facing "challenging times." But "we should not forget the groundwork that has been laid to begin improving the fiscal outlook," he wrote.

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