Archive for Friday, January 14, 2011

Shawnee Mission, De Soto school leaders distressed by governor’s budget proposal

January 14, 2011

Local superintendents knew the state was hurting financially and feared for their school districts’ funding.

But they didn’t expect a budget proposal that would cut as deep as the one newly sworn-in Gov. Sam Brownback announced Thursday.

Brownback’s proposal slashes base state aid per pupil enough that, if enacted, Shawnee Mission USD 512 and De Soto USD 232 would lose a combined $3.2 million this year, followed by $6.7 million more next year, according to estimates from the Kansas State Department of Education.

“These proposed reductions, they’re very significant,” Shawnee Mission superintendent Gene Johnson said Friday. “It will really cause some, what I would call, tremendous or catastrophic reductions for our school district.”

The governor recommended that the base state aid per pupil be reduced from $4,012 to $3,937, a $75 difference, for the 2010-11 school year.

He recommended it be further reduced to $3,780 for the 2011-12 school year, another $157. According to the education department, the additional reduction for 2011-12 is due in part to the state’s loss of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds for education jobs.

According to education department estimates, if Brownback’s proposal is approved:

• Shawnee Mission would see a reduction of $2.6 million for the 2010-11 school year and an additional $5.4 million reduction for the 2011-12 school year.

• De Soto would lose $600,000 for the 2010-11 school year, with another $1.3 million reduction in the 2011-12 school year.

Shawnee Mission already has reduced its budget by $20 million over the past two years, Johnson said. This year, the district is teaching more students with about 100 fewer teachers.

If Brownback’s proposal is approved, the district would likely be forced to dip into reserves to pay for the remainder of this school year, which has already been budgeted for, Johnson said. Going forward, the district probably would have to reduce programs and personnel, including teachers.

“I just do not see at this time how we can make it without some increased class sizes,” the superintendent said.

Especially in light of Brownback’s announcement, Johnson said he continues to stand by the Shawnee Mission school board’s recent decision to close schools, a move hoped to increase efficiency and save money.

Doug Sumner, De Soto school district superintendent-elect, said that while it’s difficult to predict a specific impact to his district until the state’s budget is officially adopted, De Soto could be forced to put more staff and services on the chopping block as well.

Sumner said that after similar reductions over the past two years, it is increasingly difficult to absorb more cuts without impacting services and personnel.

“We absolutely recognize the serious financial conditions facing the state of Kansas. We also understand and appreciate Gov. Brownback’s commitment to charting a path back to financial health,” Sumner said. “Unfortunately, this reduction to the base state aid per pupil, like those that have preceded it, will further limit the services and programs we can make available to the students and communities we serve.”

Brownback’s proposal is now in the hands of state legislators.

“A lot will happen in the coming months,” Johnson said. “Who knows where this will all end up, but I think we’re in for quite a little experience.”

Both district leaders said their primary goal would remain the same — providing a quality education for kids in their districts.

“The looming budget challenge provides yet another opportunity to maximize the resources we have available with our expectation of providing an excellent education for our children,” Sumner said.

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