Archive for Thursday, September 22, 2005

Sales tax question on ballot Tuesday

Quarter-cent sales tax’s extension to be decided

September 22, 2005

Although most Johnson County school districts agree schools need money, not all agree that a quarter-cent sales tax for schools is a positive step.

Johnson County voters will decide whether or not to renew the quarter-cent sales tax for schools Sept. 27 for another three years. The sales tax dollars are awarded through the Johnson County government to schools in the form of an economic development grant. The De Soto district received $629,426 in 2003 and $968,195 in 2004 from the sales tax. The Shawnee Mission district received about $4.6 million in 2003 and $6.4 million in 2004. The dollars given to districts is based on enrollment. The tax was originally approved by 61 percent of voters in August 2002.

Sandra Thierer, president of the school board for De Soto USD 232, said although the board isn't taking sides on the issue, her personal opinion is that the sales tax gives state legislators an excuse not to find a better formula to fund schools.

"Funding for schools is a state responsibility, not a county responsibility," she said. "This puts an extra tax burden on our De Soto taxpayers."

She acknowledged that De Soto and Shawnee Mission schools are in very different financial situations. With growth in the De Soto district, she said the money wasn't an essential part of the district's budget.

In Shawnee, Linda Leeper, president of the Shawnee Chamber of Commerce, said having top schools is vital to economic development.

"Shawnee Mission has dropped in state ranking," she said. "A great deal of that money is distributed in other parts of Kansas. In terms of maintaining our edge, we have actually fallen. The continuation of that sales tax would continue to help make sure we don't fall further behind."

Renewal of the sales tax is supported by each local Johnson County Chamber of Commerce and by the Shawnee Mission parent teacher organizations.

Casey Carl, clerk of the board of Johnson County, said last spring, representatives from Shawnee Mission USD 512 and Blue Valley USD 384 approached the county commissioners and asked them to hold another election to let voters decide whether or not to renew the tax. The tax will be capped at current sales tax dollars, which means schools can only receive as much as the 2005 grant money.

Tim Rooney, manager of budget and finance for Shawnee Mission schools, said the sales tax grant kept the district from having to make budget cuts.

"We haven't identified which (budget cuts) those would be," he said. "But we have expenditures that we're using the money we're currently receiving (from the sales tax) for our budget. If it goes away, we'll have to look at ways of reducing expenditures to accommodate that."

Rooney said the district was already taxing the maximum amount of local option budget dollars allowed by Kansas state law. He said the district's enrollment is falling, which means less base state aid per pupil dollars.

"We're number 288 out of 300 districts (in Kansas) in spending per pupil," he said. "We're not allowed to spend as much relative to other districts, so it makes it a little more difficult."

Thierer said although De Soto has also reached the maximum local option property tax, the district is growing so they receive more money each year.

"I think the sales tax is a temporary fix which Johnson County has suggested to keep their schools funded and for providing an excellent education," she said. "The state's not doing it, and the citizens (in De Soto) have said this is the last time. I've also heard (county commissioners) say this is the last time. Johnson County can't afford to do this because Johnson County has other things to pay for."

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