Archive for Thursday, March 25, 2004

House plan worries Board

March 25, 2004

On a night when they dealt with numerous tax and spending issues, De Soto USD 232 Board of Education members criticized a legislative proposal that would give them the authority to raise additional revenue through local property taxes.
The Kansas House approved an education funding plan Tuesday that would allow local districts to raise local option budgets. Currently, districts have the authority to raise property tax revenue equal to 25 percent of their total state per-pupil funding (or general fund).
The extra authority appealed to Shawnee Mission, Blue Valley and Olathe school districts but would do nothing for De Soto, where raising the local mill levy was impractical, De Soto Board members said.
Board member Sandy Thierer and Board President Jim Thomas characterized the proposal as an attempt by the Legislature to "pass the buck."
"We already have the highest mill levy in the state," Thierer said. "When you put that on the local property taxes, you put the hardship directly on homeowners. We don't have the commercial tax base to spread that burden."
It would be better if the Legislature lived up to its responsibility to adequately finance education by statewide tax increases, Thierer said.
There didn't appear to be any sentiment for such a tax increase in this election year, the Board was told by the Kansas Association of School Board's Mark Tallman. The organization's chief lobbyist was at the meeting to give the board a tutorial on education funding.
Rep Rob Boyer, R-Olathe, agreed with Tallman's assessment. But he said Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' plan to increase education spending with a phased-in, three-year $300 tax increase was hard to support because $5 of every $6 of taxes raised in Johnson County would leave the county.
Boyer voted against the funding plan that would increase the LOB authority. The bill carried by the narrowest of margins, 63-62.
The close vote indicated the education funding debate and the LOBs place in it wasn't over, he said.Other than the authority to raise additional revenue through property taxes, the House proposal would provide the district with $87,000 in additional funding for 2004-2005, Thierer said. That would only provide enough money to hire two additional teachers, she said.
A proposal in the Kansas Senate was more friendly to the district, providing a total of $446,000 in additional general fund monies, Superintendent Sharon Zoellner said. The larger general fund would allow the district to raise another $110,000 at the current 25-percent LOB rate.
Difficult cuts could be necessary if additional state aid was not forthcoming, Thomas said.
When then Gov. Bill Graves and the Legislature first proposed cuts in state per-pupil aid two years ago, the board developed a long list of possible cuts. Thomas said the district was able to avoid the cuts by using Woodsonia as a kindergarten center only and thereby avoiding staff duplications at the location and at Riverview Elementary. No such measure would bail the district out in the future, he said.
Even as Board members criticized the Legislature for considering a funding option that leaned on local property taxes, it took a step toward raising the local mill levy for the 2004-2005 school year. The board agreed to publish its hearing date before the Kansas Board of Tax Appeal on its request for "extraordinary growth" authority to raise $590,421 in local property taxes next year. The money will be used to cover the cost of opening new classrooms. All interested parties can testify at the hearing scheduled for 10 a.m. April 15 at the Board of Tax Appeals office in the Docking State Office Building in Topeka.
The Board also voted to accept an $804,873 grant from Johnson County. The money is the district's 2004 share of the three-year 1/4-cent countywide sales tax for education county voters approved in August 2002.
Board member Don Clark noted the grant came with a use-it-or-give-it-back clause and wondered if the district would be put in the position of having to repay the county.
The Board's policy is to use the grant for technology, and the district was documenting its use, Zoellner said. Spending the grant would not be a problem, she said.

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