Over coffee and a light breakfast, as local legislators gave a wrapup of the Missouri General Assembly session that ended last week, Victor Callahan took a minute to step back, look at the big picture and even be philosophical for a moment.

Over coffee and a light breakfast, as local legislators gave a wrapup of the Missouri General Assembly session that ended last week, Victor Callahan took a minute to step back, look at the big picture and even be philosophical for a moment.

“We’re going through some kind of weird times in this country. ... We’re going to be fine in this country,” said Callahan, an Independence Democrat finishing his final term in the state Senate, due to term limits.

Yes, he said, the political left and right are polarized, and the country has problems.

“We think we’re going through difficult times,” he said. “What did Lincoln go through? What did FDR go through? What did Richard Nixon go through?”

And people gripe about politicians. They can be brave and far-sighted, he said, then petty and small, all at once – in other words, they are people.

“I don’t have fear,” he said. “I have faith.”

Callahan spoke Wednesday at an Independence Chamber of Commerce event along with several other Eastern Jackson County representatives and senators.

He will be best remembered for gettting legislation passed in 2007 that allowed an election to move seven western Independence and Sugar Creek schools from the Kansas City School District into the Independence School District. That passed overwhelmingly, the transfer took place the next year, and those schools today are full, with standardized test scores and other measures showing significant improvement.

“That’ll make this city better forever,”  said Rep. Noel Torpey, an Independence Republican who made a point to call Callahan “my senator” and present him with a plaque. They are of different parties, but Torpey said Callahan’s door has been open to him for advice and guidance.

“He has done an amazing job, and we’re really going to miss him,” Torpey said.

Callahan looked around, seeing allies in the school-transfer effort, and said: “I just want to say it’s been an extreme honor to work with all of you in this room.”

Callahan also drove home one more point: The school transfer worked because politicians asked the residents for it.

“The voters were empowered to make that decision,” he said, something he said has been missing in the continued discussions over possibly restructuring the Kansas City district, which lost its state accreditation this year.

Some legislators on Wednesday expressed concern that allowing the state to step in and take over the Kansas City schools immediately – instead of waiting until 2014, as current law requires – failed to pass in the General Assembly.

“To continue to go as it is isn’t going to make it any better,” said state Rep. Ira Anders, D-Independence.

In a closely watched case, one Missouri court ruled threw out a state law allowing students in an unaccredited district to enroll in neighboring districts. The prospect of possibly hundreds of students showing up to enroll has been a major concern for the Independence School District and others. The court’s decision took some pressure off the legislature to act now, but the issue is still working its way through the courts, and Rep. Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee’s Summit, said it’s possible things will be back to square one in a couple of years.

He also alluded to the difficulty of making this a priority in the General Assembly, where several key leaders are from the southeast part of the state.

“I’m not sure you can get the Bootheel to care about the Kansas City schools,” he said.

Several school issues were discussed in Jefferson City, such as funding, allowing more charter schools and limiting teacher tenure, all of which became “once again an irrational discussion between the left and the right,” Callahan said. Ultimately, little of that passed and citizens should be relieved that “nothing crazy happened,” he said.

The better approach is to be slow and methodical, he said.

“I’m certainly not going to make a deal with people to unravel our public schools ...” Callahan said.

Anders expressed frustration that the state – still suffering from slowly growing revenues in a sluggish economy – is $400 million short of fully funding the foundation formula, which is Missouri’s main means of allocating money to local school districts.

“That’s pretty much disastrous,” he said.

Cierpiot had a different view. The state is spending more on schools than the Constitution requires.

“So we’re spending more than we need to but not as much as we want to,” he said.

Legislators touched on other issues:

• Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit, said the state budget that takes effect July 1 relies too much on one-time sources of funds and relies on overly optimistic projections of how much the lottery will bring in.

“This year was obviously a tough session for the budget overall,” he said.
Aside from that, he was upbeat.

“Overall, I think it was an OK session,” he said.

• A ban on texting while driving didn’t pass. “I was disappointed by that,” Anders said. (It is illegal for drivers under age 21 to text.)

• Legislators found new money for the state’s veterans homes, which otherwise were looking at running out of funding in about a year. More money from casino entry fees will be diverted to the veterans homes. That comes at the expense of early childhood education, but that’s being compensated with money the state gets from tobacco companies.