School finance change challenges district
De Soto USD 232 board members are considering ways to help fund teachers' salaries while staying competitive with nearby districts suddenly flush with added money to direct toward teachers' compensation.
One option the district has is to increase the mill levy by one mill, which would raise $370,671, according to district figures.
This option became available when the Kansas Legislature approved its school finance package in 2006. At the request of large Johnson County school districts, the package included a one-mill local option for 17 districts found to have high costs of living that boosts teacher's salaries -- a list that includes De Soto.
However, one mill of additional authority has a different bottom line in the different districts. The Shawnee Mission School District 512 had voters approve a one-mill increase in April that will raise an estimated $3,159,924.
Although USD 232 is eligible for this option, De Soto School Board members are not leaning toward accepting it, said board president Don Clark.
Instead, board members are looking at a less permanent option.
The Kansas Board of Tax Appeals last month granted the district authority to raise as much as $1.65 million in additional property taxes to help pay for the added costs of opening Horizon Elementary and Mill Creek Middle School. This authority would allow more room in the school's budget for teachers' salaries.
Clark said this option seems more attractive to board members because it is a temporary tax. However, there is some discussion on whether or not to use all or part of the granted authority.
"I think all the options are still open," Clark said. "I don't think anyone has made a hard, fast, definite decision in one way or the other. I think it is realistic though using the full amount we were given authority to."
The discussion comes as the district is in negotiations for the 2007-2008 contract with its teachers' union.
De Soto Teachers' Association President Justin Love said teachers were attracted to the district because of its growth and reputation.
"Traditionally there is a lot of support for teachers and for education," he said. "In order to get the best teachers here it is important to remain competitive in all aspects of our salary schedule. That is something that we are always trying to work with."
Staying competitive with districts like Shawnee Mission when it comes to attracting and retaining teachers is going to be tough on taxpayers, said Ken Larsen, director of budget and finance for the De Soto School District.
"It's difficult," he said. "We are supported largely by residential so it makes it tough on our patrons with the mill levy, although we are not the highest in the county. There is no way to compete without running the type of mill levy that we are running."
Although it may seem like a lot for taxpayers to bear, Clark said it is worth it.
"People move to the district because of the schools -- the quality of the schools, the size of the schools," he said. "In order to have the schools that we have I am going to accept and pay a little bit more."