Baldwin school board tells state representative school finance reform flawed
Members of the Baldwin USD 348 Board of Education and Superintendent Paul Dorathy informed State Rep. TerriLois Gregory on Monday they disapproved of a key element in Gov. Sam Brownback’s school finance proposal.
Gregory, R-Baldwin City, provided the board with a legislative update, focusing on the governor’s proposed overhaul of the state’s school finance formula.
The governor’s plan would do away with weighting for at-risk, special-education and English-as-a-second-language students, which gives districts added money per pupil to spend on those students. Instead, it would give districts $3,780 per student next school year to spend on their general fund needs as the wish. The per-pupil amount would increase to $4,492 in 2013-2014.
In addition, revenue from a statewide 20-mill levy would be placed in an equalization fund, which would provide some extra money for districts with lower property tax values. Under the governor’s proposal, local school boards would have the right to raise addition revenue with local property taxes. That additional authority would not be capped as are local option budgets in the current school finance plan.
One estimate she saw indicated USD 348 would receive $67,000 more in funding next school year should the governor’s proposal be approved, Gregory said. But, she said all was subject to change as the Legislature considered the plan.
Despite reservations about giving boards unlimited authority to raise taxes — especially if not tied to a requirement they get voter approval — Gregory was generally supportive of Brownback’s proposal.
“What I like about the current changes (in the governor’s plan) is that people paying taxes are closer to people spending taxes,” she said. “I like local control.”
The governor’s plan was designed to end litigation on the school finance and needed, in part, to help the state prepare for coming federal cuts in Medicaid funding, Gregory said.
Three board members expressed reservations on the plan, but Superintendent Paul Dorathy was most forceful in relating his concerns to Gregory. As written, the plan would hurt all school districts in her House district because of the disparity in their purchasing power from additional mill levy authority compared to those with such tax base boosting developments as Oak Park Mall or Wolf Creek Nuclear Plant, he told Gregory.
“If it goes the way it is going, it’s going to put a huge amount of taxes on local people,” he said. “Counties like Johnson County and Coffey County will have a huge advantage. This district can’t raise more money locally.”
“I know down the road, you’ll have Johnson County districts spending $20,000 per student, and we’ll be spending $6,000.”
The current funding formula with its weighting was complicated, Dorathy said, but Kansas courts have let it stand because it addressed questions of equal funding for districts and the recognition more dollars were needed to educate at-risk, special-ed and non-native English speaking students.
Dorathy said the governor’s proposal invited lawsuits on those issues, which he was doubtful it could withstand.
Board President Ande Parks said the plan would be especially harmful to USD 348 because it was in direct competition for teachers and staff with Johnson County schools.
In her reply, Gregory conceded the proposal was popular with the Johnson County delegation, but assured the board it would be changed to address the disparity issue Dorathy and Parks identified.
“I can absolutely guarantee you it won’t stay the way it is,” she said. “There’s too much rumbling in the halls.”
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