Block grant proposal would cost Baldwin schools $100,000
The plan of Gov. Sam Brownback and legislative leaders to fund K-12 education through block grants will reduce state funding to Baldwin USD 348 by $100,000 in the current school year and require a local mill levy increase to avoid passing on similar cuts to the district’s budget the next two years, Baldwin Superintendent Paul Dorathy said.
The governor and Republican legislative leaders are proposing to fund K-12 education through block grants for the remainder of the 2014-15 school year and for the next two years as they rewrite the state’s school finance law. Dorathy said the proposal would fund schools at the 2013-14 level and wipe out state equalizations funding increases put into the 2014-15 state budget the Legislature approved a year ago.
He would present a long list of options to the board at its March 23 meeting about how it can address this year’s $100,000 cut in state funding, Dorathy said. Those would include options proposed at last month’s board meeting, such as cuts to building funds for the district’s four schools, ending school early in the spring, ending in-town busing, curtailing activities for the 4-year-old program, and more, he said.
At its February meeting, the board had instructed Dorathy and administrative staff to propose ways to deal with what was expected to be a $75,000 cut to state aid for the current school year that included a mix of cost-saving measures and use of some of the district’s contingency fund.
Legislative leaders are encouraging districts to spend their reserves to cover state funding shortfalls, but the Baldwin board and others are reluctant to do so with the state’s track record of not delivering promised funding.
“We learned we can’t count on the state for funding,” Dorathy said.
Under the governor’s proposal, the district will receive block grants for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years equal to what it received in 2013-14, Dorathy said. It’s a figure that will not change should district enrollment increase the next two years and doesn’t account for the district’s increased costs, he said.
Rolling funding back to 2013-14 levels would strip out state equalization aid to the state’s less affluent districts. The Legislature approved those equalization payments in its 2014 session in response to a finding in a Kansas court decision on state education funding.
Should the block grants measure pass, the Baldwin school board will face a decision in August when it considers the district’s local option budget for the 2015-16 school year, Dorathy said.
Last year, the board approved a local option budget of 30 percent of its total general fund revenue, or the maximum state statute allows. However, state equalization payments accounted for some of the LOB’s 30 percent and helped reduced the impact on the local mill levy, Dorathy said. With equalization payments gone, local property taxes would be the only source of LOB revenue, he said.
State Sen. Tom Holland said the block grant proposal might include the last cut the district would see this current fiscal year, but more would be coming as the Legislature addresses bigger revenue shortfalls in this session and next year from the “self-inflicted” crisis brought on by the tax cuts Brownback signed into law in 2012 and 2013, which reduced state revenue collections by more than the recession.
“Not only is this self-inflicted, but we’re not going to bounce back like we do in a recession,” the Baldwin City Democrat said. “We’re $600 million in the hole, and this plan saves $51 million. This may be the final cuts to this current school year’s funding, but we still have to deal with the two out years. Leadership has already said they don’t support any tax increases. I think they are going to try to cut themselves out of this. It’s going to be brutal.”