Archive for Thursday, June 1, 2006

Budget work put on hold

USD 232 officials waiting for Supreme Court ruling

June 1, 2006

De Soto USD 232 budget preparations for the coming school year are still on hold even after a statewide school finance plan was approved last week.

The Kansas Legislature returned to Topeka last week to correct an error in the school finance plan passed earlier in May.

District officials are waiting for a ruling from the Kansas Supreme Court, which will determine if the Legislature's additional funding to schools satisfies its requirement for giving more money to schools. The court is scheduled to convene June 22.

Superintendent Sharon Zoellner said although the plan will give more money to schools across the state, De Soto would gain little.

She said the De Soto district would lose about $840,000 next year because they won't be receiving new facility money. The money from the state was a special circumstance for the building of Prairie Ridge Elementary School for 2004-2005 and 2005-2006. In 2007-2008, the district will get the same special circumstance money for the new middle school and the 71st Street elementary, but not until those schools open.

"This school finance plan doesn't provide much new money with our school district," Zoellner said. "We stand to gain around $200,000."

The superintendent said in a typical year, budgets are already figured by May 1. This year and last year, the district had to wait for budget planning and was granted an extension by the state. Administrators are also waiting to negotiate teacher contracts. Zoellner said they'd probably wait until June 22 when the Kansas Supreme Court convened to decide the school finance issue.

If the court requires another special session like last year, that would cause a further delay, Zoellner said.

The taxpayer-funded Legislative Post Audit, she said, recommended De Soto get from about $2.7 million to $5.8 million.

District budget planners aren't the only ones waiting for the state court's decision.

The De Soto Teacher's Association hasn't yet made an offer to district negotiators for changes in the salary schedule. Each year, the association -- as part of the Kansas National Education Association -- negotiates teacher salaries and benefits with district representatives. Mill Valley High School teacher and negotiator with the association Justin Bogart said the negotiations had gone well except for the wait for legislative school-funding action.

Bogart said teachers who were not members of the union were represented by the group during negotiations. The contract negotiations typically focus on a salary schedule's base pay, which is the amount paid to a new, non-experienced teacher. The salary steps up based on the teacher's education and experience. The negotiators also discuss benefits such as insurance and sick leave.

"We have a feeling the Legislature isn't done yet," he said. "We haven't looked at that as a topic because of what the ultimate decision on that legislation will be."

Last year, the Legislature convened in an emergency session in July specifically for the purpose of finding a school finance plan that would satisfy the court's demand for more money to schools.

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