• Last modified 3306 days ago (March 31, 2010)


Proposed legislation would slash school funds

Staff writer

The Kansas House of Representatives is considering legislation that would be a twofold blow to local school districts.

House Bill 2739, introduced March 18 in the House Appropriations Committee, would cut state aid to USDs 397, 398, 408, 410, and 411 by an average of about $94,000, according to information from the Kansas Department of Education. At the same time, the districts would have to increase local property taxes or lose even more money.

HB 2739 would effectively transfer 10 percent of a district’s local option budget to the general fund, USD 410 Superintendent Steve Noble said.

That would give the appearance of increasing base state aid per pupil to $4,450, by using local tax dollars. The real state aid would be $4,005 per student, according to the Kansas Department of Education Web site.

“It’s smoke and mirrors,” Noble said.

“If the Legislature wishes to make a portion of school finance mandatory, it should be funded by the statewide mill levy or other statewide taxes and not by mandatory local efforts,” USD 397 Superintendent Jerri Kemble said.

Furthermore, the bill would reduce weightings for low enrollment, bilingual education, vocational education, and at-risk students. That would reduce a district’s full-time equivalent enrollment without any change in student population.

“In looking at the bill, it would be very difficult for districts in Marion County to sustain their current quality of education,” USD 408 Superintendent Lee Leiker said.

Another blow would be reductions in supplements to local option budgets. The state supplements districts’ local levies, based on property valuation in districts. Districts with high property values receive a lower state supplement.

USD 410 receives a 45 percent supplement to the local option budget. For every dollar USD 410 levies on property owners in the district, Kansas provides 45 cents, Noble said.

Districts would be able to increase taxes to pay for the lost supplemental funding, but losses due to reduced full-time equivalent would not be able to be replaced, he said.

School districts in small communities are at the greatest risk from the bill, USD 411 Superintendent John Fast said. Every district in Marion County would suffer greatly, he said.

“When it pulls funding away from the local option budget, it means that after next year our patrons would be forced to vote on a 10 percent increase on their local taxes if we even want to keep our doors open,” Fast said.

The Kansas Department of Education estimated how much each school district would lose if HB 2739 passes.

  • Centre $63,131
  • Peabody-Burns $84,052
  • Marion $131,317
  • Hillsboro $130,896
  • Goessel $63,393

The department also calculated how much districts would need to increase their local mill levies to keep the local option budget at its current level. This would not replace the lost state aid, but would only keep the reduction from being larger.

  • Centre 2.48 mills
  • Peabody-Burns 3.04 mills
  • Marion 5.00 mills
  • Hillsboro 9.47 mills
  • Goessel 9.24 mills

“Our patrons have stepped up locally to fund our schools,” Noble said.

Putting the additional burden on local taxpayers would be irresponsible, and small school districts will suffer the most, he said.

The bill would increase inequality in the state by imposing a heavier tax burden on districts with lower property values — districts that tend to have more disadvantaged and at-risk students, Kemble said.

“My understanding is that this plan is being promoted by House leadership as a means of avoiding tax increases,” USD 398 Superintendent Rex Watson said. “I haven’t managed to see the logic in their thinking this is not a tax increase.”

HB 2739 was introduced as a budget bill rather than an education bill, District 70 Rep. J. Robert Brookens said. The bill would represent a major policy shift and foists issues of tax increases onto local governments.

“I don’t think it’s sound policy, and I don’t think it’ll pass,” Brookens said.

Leiker also thinks the bill will fail to pass, but it makes him concerned that some state legislators are willing to push higher taxes onto the local level so they can say they didn’t raise taxes. He worries that whatever is eventually passed will be detrimental to small school districts.

Last modified March 31, 2010