Archive for Thursday, March 9, 2006

School finance plans too pricey for O’Connor

March 9, 2006

Most school administrators aren't going to hold their breath and wait for the Kansas Legislature to come up with a school finance plan anytime soon.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius announced last week she had reached an agreement to move forward on school finance with legislative leaders. The plans must satisfy the Kansas Supreme Court requirement to equalize funding for schools throughout the state. Sharon Zoellner, superintendent of De Soto schools, said the district wasn't optimistic about the plan's passage.

"We don't put a lot of stock in the early plans because they change so drastically," she said.

Although two plans were announced, one in the House and one in the Senate, that would give about $660 to $500 million to Kansas schools over a three-year period, Sen. Kay O'Connor, R-Olathe, said that figure was actually much higher.

"The numbers they're giving are incomplete numbers," she said. "The $500 and $600 million do not take into account the compounding effect. If you add $150 million this year, the next year you add that $150 million again."

O'Connor said the plans would actually give about $150 to $180 million to schools throughout the state in the first year, enough to bankrupt the state's budget.

"So we're talking about a billion dollars," she said. "Why are they spending so much more money if they don't have it? Even gambling won't bring enough money, and that means a tax increase."

O'Connor said she wasn't in favor of approving a new education finance plan because she said the courts didn't have the authority to tell the Legislature how much to spend on schools.

"That's why we need an amendment to tell them they can't tell us how much money to spend," she said. "They (the courts) are not privy to how much knowledge the Legislature has. All they're looking at is one budget."

According to the Kansas Department of Education, De Soto schools would receive about $927,911 the first year of the House plan and $1.2 million the first year of the Senate plan.

District communications director Alvie Cater said the plan did not take into account the money the district would already get under new facilities expenditures.

"Because we're a growing district and we don't have any schools opening in 2006-2007, we lose new school weighting," he said. "So even though the house plan shows we would get $900,000, because we're losing new facilities weighting, we only get a net gain of $80,000."

Cater said the Senate plan was a bigger concern for administrators and board members in De Soto.

"The Senate plan really relies on local property taxes, and that's an issue for us because our homeowners are already paying for the bulk of our taxes," he said. "The Senate plan basically is capturing property taxes that our homeowners are already paying, so it's technically not new money."

Kansas school districts are currently limited by the amount of local option budget they can receive from patrons to 27 percent of their general operating fund. The current law will raise the 27-percent limit to 29 percent and then to 30 percent the following year. Tim Rooney, budget and finance director for the Shawnee Mission district, said administrators in that district want more local control.

"There's been an attempt by the Senate that they should move some of the local option budget over to the general fund so the court will consider that being used in the core educational programs," he said. "The first year would require districts to take 2.5 percent (of the local option budget) and put it in the general fund. They're just taking money from one hand and putting it in the other."

One benefit of the House plan is that it would give more weighting to urban core at-risk students.

Sen. Nick Jordan, R-Shawnee, said the two plans would at least give a starting point for legislators to negotiate. Jordan said his concern was that Johnson County districts are continuing to be in the bottom 20 percent of Kansas schools receiving state aid.

"We've found out what our leaders think," he said. "Now we just need to know what each of our legislative bodies thinks."

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