Archive for Thursday, March 22, 2007

School districts should be honest about sales tax

March 22, 2007

De Soto USD 232 was informed last week it would receive a 2007 distribution of $1.3 million from the Johnson County quarter-cent economic development sales tax. The district uses the money to upgrade its academic technology.

That's a healthy sum, but considerably less than what the county's three biggest districts will receive. Shawnee Mission is to get $6 million, Olathe $5.4 million and Blue Valley $4.3 million. In all, $18.1 million will be distributed from the tax.

In the depths of the state's fiscal crisis in 2002 -- during which state aid to schools was being cut -- representatives of the larger school districts hijacked a county commission process meant to make a case for a sales tax for county infrastructure needs. They were in a position to do so because state law would allow them to petition the county commission to put the measure before voters.

It may have seemed a heavy-handed move, but it was OK with county residents, who overwhelmingly approved its use for grants to county school districts in August 2002.

In 2002, the school representatives characterized the need for the revenue as an emergency measure, but when the school grants were to expire three years later, the large districts said revenue from the tax was still needed. As something of a face-saving measure, they agreed the county could keep for its own needs any revenue exceeding initial projections.

Johnson County residents looking at the $18.1 million total should consider what else it could provide in a county with considerable needs of its own, including a courthouse and a north/south arterial in the western part of the county.

The current tax will sunset Dec. 31, 2008. Although the state's financial crisis is long over and the Kansas Legislature (under court pressure) has added millions to education funding, large districts can be expected to once again demand the continuation of the grants.

As long as voters support the tax, there is nothing wrong with that. But a little honesty would be appreciated. School district representatives should admit the sales tax grants have become an important source of revenue they now expect. It is now a difference maker that gives them an advantage districts in the state's other counties can't hope to tap.

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