Archive for Thursday, June 28, 2001

New school tax formula will cost De Soto residents

June 28, 2001

It was widely reported the Kansas Legislature refused to pass a tax increase this year despite pressure from the governor and others who maintained added revenue was needed to fund K-12 education.

Home and business owners in the De Soto School District will find that widely-reported fact is not quite true.

By way of a bookkeeping change made, we suspect, for the financially strapped Shawnee Mission school district the Legislature gave the local districts an option to increase local taxes that they couldn't afford to pass up.

In the past, special education dollars school districts received from the state were not recorded in the district's general fund. Next year, they will be lumped together.

This departure from past bookkeeping practices is significant to districts like De Soto that have local option budgets of 25 percent of their general funds, the maximum the state allows. The local option budget allows school districts to levy extra mills if the district's general fund does not cover expenses. The larger the size of the general fund, the more local property tax dollars districts can raise through their local option budgets.

The change added about $1.5 million to the district's general fund in 2001-2002. That will allow the district to raise about $375,000 in additional revenue from local property taxes.

When Deputy Superintendent Sharon Zoellner informed the school board of the bookkeeping change, she said the district didn't need the extra taxing authority. Still, she said, it would be fiscally irresponsible to refuse the increase. If the district's local option budget was anything less than the maximum, it would be ineligible for an extrodinary growth tax authority and other funding that is available only to districts with maximum local option budgets.

The state's complicated public education funding formula is often criticized for its one-size-fits-all mentality. It certainly appears as if there is room for flexibility with the latest maneuver. For instance, added state revenue sources could be made available to those districts with local option budgets of 90 percent of the general fund, or that had a history of taxing at the maximum under the old bookkeeping system.

That would spare district taxpayers a likely 1-mill tax increase in the 2001-2002 budget. That might seem insignificant. But within a district with a property tax levy hovering near 70 mills, any relief would be welcome.

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