School finance plan presents USD 232 with new challenge
Lawmakers are taking bows for addressing the Kansas Supreme Court's challenge to provide additional educational funding with a measure that will boost funding to the state's school districts by $125 million without increasing taxes. The aside is that the Legislature took the always-popular move of those higher in the tax food chain of passing taxes down to lower jurisdictions by allowing local school districts to increase property taxes.
The problem in this case is the move only exacerbates the distinction between the state's rich and poor school districts. Shawnee Mission, Blue Valley and Olathe school districts have long lobbied for more local property tax authority. They are rich in the commercial and residential properties that raise a great deal of revenue through property taxes without burdening homeowners.
Given De Soto's already high mill levy needed to retire debt on new schools and dependence of residential property taxes, raising the LOB is not realistic. Still, growth has put De Soto in a better position than most rural districts with shrinking enrollments. The legislative action appears to have changed that.
The Legislative plan also allows 17 districts deemed to have cost-of-living challenges to raise mill levies even more for teacher salaries. It is a move that appears to add to concerns about the disparity of education offered by state schools.
If the Court allows the legislation to stand, there can be no doubt the big three Johnson County districts will take advantage of the LOB increase to boost salaries.
It can be presumed quality teachers in De Soto schools find reasons to work in a smaller district. But it can also be presumed those reasons will be harder to justify if they can get a healthy raise should they commute 20 miles or less.
This is particularly true because De Soto was among the 17 districts found to have cost-of-living challenges, meaning those teachers living in the district find it harder to make ends meet with their paychecks. At the same time, all acknowledge there is no chance it can ask for additional local mill levy support.
If the rich districts did indeed face wage inflation pressure, it is difficult to think the Legislature has acted to make it a regional problem, one the nearby smaller districts don't have resources to resolve. If nothing else, we hope the Court doesn't allow this provision to stand when it considers the school finance plan.