Area schools gain little in funding

By Rod Haxton, editor

Basic aid is up only $9,375 in USD 466

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Area school districts will not reap a windfall in the Kansas Legislature’s answer to the Supreme Court’s ruling that the state pump additional money into public education.

The increase in basic state aid, combined with cuts in funding for at-risk students, will only add an estimated $9,375 to the USD 466 (Scott County) budget for the 2014-15 school year.

That projection is based on current enrollment, which is subject to change, and it doesn’t include weighting factors for transportation, English as a Second Language students and others which could give an additional bump to state funding.

The district could also gain another $24,419 through a local option budget (LOB) increase, which would come from property taxes.

Those numbers are based on a perfect scenario which Supt. Bill Wilson isn’t expecting as he applies the new formula to the Scott County district.

Wilson is far less optimistic when he predicts state assistance for next school year’s budget.

“When you look at the at-risk students which have been eliminated from the formula and the virtual students we’ve lost from our FTE (full-time equivalency) we’re not going to see the $24,000 increase in LOB aid that the state is showing,” says Wilson.

Outside of the projected $9,375 increase in basic state aid - which could rise or fall depending on the Sept. 20 head count - Wilson’s preliminary numbers indicate the district will break even, at best, with all other aspects of the finance formula.

 

Wilson also takes issue with efforts to identify KPERS and special education money as funding for public schools when none of that makes it into the classroom. He points out that the KPERS contribution “is in our budget for a day” and special ed (money) passes through the district to the High Plains Special Education Cooperative.

He doesn’t feel the state is providing an accurate picture of money that is actually spent for public education.

 

Wichita County

The Wichita County district would appear to benefit most among area schools from the new funding proposal. It would receive an additional $10,802 in basic state aid, but lose more than $4,000 of that in cuts to at-risk funding. That leaves a net gain of just $6,565 in funding.

However, the district will receive $65,170 in added LOB aid. This isn’t the result of changes in school funding, but comes about following a recent state audit in which the district gained 16.2 more full-time equivalent (FTE) students than were included in the published budget.

The district will gain authority to increase property taxes by $33,033 through the local option budget (LOB). This money is earmarked for classroom costs.

At the same time, the state will provide “LOB aid” which can only be used for property tax reduction. In Wichita County’s situation, that means property taxes will be reduced by $41,128 - or about one-half mill.

Supt. Keith Higgins says the district gets about $1 million in funding through property taxes.

The amount of projected savings would have a minimal impact on the district’s mill levy.

“The additional $33,000 is in LOB authority and the $41,000 in tax relief are better than nothing, but they won’t have a significant impact on our budget,” says Higgins. “Most of what we’re seeing in this finance plan is accounting gimmicks in Topeka.

“The legislature is doing an accounting shift. They’re taking from one pot and putting money into another which means little new funding for schools,” Higgins says.

Some of this “new money” is the result of cuts in at-risk money which amounts to $8.2 million statewide. That’s only slightly smaller than the $9.5 million that’s raised through a $14 increase in per pupil basic state aid.

“It will be interesting to see if the court buys into this.”

 

Lane County Schools

The Dighton and Healy school districts will see very little impact from additional state funding.

Dighton will gain an estimated $6,501 from an increase in basic state aid, but lose nearly half of that in cuts to at-risk funding. The resulting $3,805 gain in basic state aid will go along with a projected $27,287 in additional property tax authority.

The basic state aid increase in the Healy district, combined with the loss of at-risk funding, leaves them with a net gain of just $209. The district could also gain another $3,452 through the higher LOB.

“When you spread this amount of money over an entire district’s operations, it doesn’t mean a lot,” says Healy Supt. John LaFave.

The state has given school districts the ability to increase their LOB by two percent - to 33 percent of the general fund budget. That would provide a funding boost of about $32,000 for Healy, depending on how much property values fluctuate.

“I could see the (school) board increasing their LOB to the max just to give us a little more cushion,” says LaFave.

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