Archive for Wednesday, December 4, 2002

Budget cuts hold education ‘harmless’

Governor proposes $256 million in cuts

December 4, 2002

Having already felt the brunt of two previous state funding cuts, no one was more shocked than school officials that kindergarten through 12th grade education was held harmless by the latest round of cuts announced last week.

Last Tuesday, Kansas Gov. Bill Graves proposed budget cuts totaling approximately $256 million over the next few months. The proposed cutbacks include $48 million to city and county governments, and trimming several state funds by a total of $35 million.

"I had anticipated at least a $50 per student cut (Tuesday)," said Cal Cormack, Basehor-Linwood School District superintendent. "But I'm still expecting cuts to be made to K-12 education.

"The best guess is still probably at $100 per student."

Cormack said state officials holding par on current education funding is encouraging, but public education is still within the crosshairs for future cutbacks.

"It is encouraging not only the governor but other people have said they want to maintain public education," Cormack said. "(Graves and governor-elect Kathleen Sebelius) are saying we have a Legislature that clearly has to make some decisions.

"(We) can at least continue to hold our breath. We can't breathe a sigh of relied yet."

Mark Tallman, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, said the governor's proposal was a temporary reprieve considering education had been hit so hard previously.

"It was a surprise in the sense we knew how serious the budget is," Tallman said. "The governor has said he wants to make education a priority and he clearly backed that up."

Although there were no official cuts to education, Tallman said it's still possible school districts could lose dollars because the state won't be able to meet projected payments.

"The amount of money in question is about $34 million," he said.

According to the Kansas Department of Education, the state is short approximately $6.6 million in funding the base per pupil rate of $3,863. A break down shows the state is about $11 per student short in funding.

The state is also $22 million short in funding Kansas school districts. The shortfall was caused by increases in local option budgets in districts with low property valuations.

So while the latest reductions don't affect education directly, the reductions still influence school district spending, Tallman said.

"All of this is based on state revenue as projected," he said. "This simply gets us back to zero. There isn't any room for error."

While the proposed cuts largely held education harmless, they did lean heavily on payments to cities and counties, eliminating some $48 million in projected payments.

Leavenworth County Commissioner Joe Daniels said the county is already feeling the sting of the cuts.

"We're going to be hurting," Daniels said, citing that the county's road budget has already been reduced $558,000 due to the governor's budget restraints.

"Those monies we're hit with we usually use for maintenance and roads, so we're going to pray for good weather."

Six county departments receive state money.

So far, it appears only one, the health department, will be reduced in funding, Daniels said.

"At this point, it's a little unclear," he said. "There is still some jockeying at the state level and we're trying to take some costcutting measures."

The cost cutting includes freezing any new hirings or pay increases, and department purchases of more than $100 must be approved by the county commissioners, Daniels said.

"We're going to have to carry on as far as we can for as long as we can," Daniels said.

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