State funding decisions put pressure on Baldwin district to increase property taxes
If Baldwin school district taxpayers want a hint of how Monday’s Baldwin school board budget discussion may go, they need look no further than the school district to the north.
On Monday night, the Lawrence board approved publication of a 2015-2016 budget that increased that district’s the mill levy by 1.602 mils. The increase, which was the district’s first in five years, was needed to offset lost state aid, the Lawrence board was told.
The Baldwin school board will be confronted with a similar pinch when it meets at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the district office to consider approving a budget for publication. The published budget establishes spending lids, which the district can’t exceeded without republishing the document. The board is free, however, to set lower spending levels for its different funds.
Baldwin Superintendent Paul Dorathy has warned for months the board would be faced with a difficult decision regarding the district’s local option budget for 2015-2016. The issue is the state equalization payments the 2013 Legislature approved in response to the Kansas Supreme Court ruling. That court decision found the Legislature’s decision to end equalization payments with the start of the recession to be unconstitutional.
A year ago, the Baldwin school board approved a 2014-2015 budget that reduced the mill levy to 65.754 mills, a 3.16 mill reduction from the year before. That reduction reflected the expected state equalization payment to the local option budget.
As it turned out that added money never materialized. The equalization payments fell to the wayside when it was learned in late 2014 that further state budget cuts would be needed because state revenue was falling far short of projections.
Dorathy explained this spring the district was able to cover the shortfall through the use of $90,000 of carryover funds it previously didn’t have the budget authority to spend. It was able to use that money last school year, however, because of the added local option budget spending authority written into the 2014-2015 budget in expectation of receiving the state equalization payment.
The carryover money that rescued the 2014-2015 budget won’t be available for 2015-2016 nor did the Legislature restore the equalization payments. What the Legislature did do was replace the state’s two-decade old school finance formula with a system that provides block grants to school districts. However, the block grants froze per-pupil aid to districts at 2014-2015 levels.
With that freeze, the district will need to fund its local option budget at last year's level just to stay even. However, as Dorathy has warned for months, without the carryover funds or equalization payments, it will require more local tax dollars to keep it at that level.
In positive budget news, the district’s sale of the Vinland Elementary School to Darren Flory is complete. The $301,000 Flory paid for the building, which he plans to use as office and warehouse space for his dairy equipment supply company, was deposited in the district’s capital outlay fund.