Archive for Wednesday, January 23, 2002

School district awaits state funding outcome

January 23, 2002

Basehor-Linwood School District administrators aren't quite sure what to make of Kansas Gov. Bill Graves' recent proposal to increase education funding.

To present a balanced budget, Graves had just weeks ago proposed to cut education funding by $158 per student, erasing increases given to school districts during the past three years.

During last week's state of the state address, Graves reneged on the education cuts and offered a $20 per student increase, funded by increases in cigarette and gasoline taxes.

"It's wait and see," said Cal Cormack, Basehor-Linwood School District superintendent. "It depends on what the Legislature decides to do from here."

Should per pupil funding be cut as proposed originally, the Basehor-Linwood School District would stand to lose $455,000, district officials said.

Approximately $380,000 would come from the general fund, with the other $75,000 coming from a reduced Local Option Budget.

The LOB is a designated percentage of the school district's general fund. The school district's LOB is at 25 percent, so if the general fund is reduced, the money the district receives from the LOB is also reduced.

Cormack said the Basehor-Linwood School District would face certain cutbacks if the per pupil funding decrease is approved at the state level.

A list of those cutbacks was released to the Basehor-Linwood School Board and school administrators.

The cutbacks include a reduction in library funds, cutting technology expenditures, placing holds on new textbooks and assessing participation fees for activities.

"If we had to cut, these are the areas we would cut first," Cormack said. "We hope the community will see that and say to the Legislature that this is unacceptable.

"I think it is fair for people to know in advance what could happen."

In addition to the reductions, there are some cost-cutting items the school district would have to consider.

Cormack said the district would freeze salaries and wages, hold off on hiring new personnel and reduce staff development.

Although cutbacks would occur if educational funding cuts were approved by the Legislature, Cormack said the district would not cut existing staff positions.

"At this point, there would be no reduction in staffing," he said. "I don't want the staff worried about their positions."

The school district has seen the budget crisis faced by state legislators first hand.

In December, a payment from the state to the school was only 75 percent of the normal $700,000 the district receives because the state had a financial shortfall.

The remainder of the payment was made 10 days later, school district officials said.

"The bottom line is if the Legislature doesn't address these issues there will be cuts of some kind," Cormack said. "No one knows if the Legislature will step up to address these issues."

And while funding cuts could have serious consequences for local education, statewide it could be even worse, said Mark Tallman, a representative for the Kansas Association of School Boards.

Tallman spoke about education funding at an informational meeting Jan. 10 at Basehor-Linwood High School.

His presentation outlined the dire need for more educational funding in Kansas.

As a member of a small-town Kansas school board, Tallman said he encountered a promising teacher who quit because he could get a higher paying job with better benefits as an assistant manager at a fast food restaurant.

"He could make more money with better health insurance as an assistant manager at Arby's than he could as a teacher," Tallman said.

Teachers across the state face similar decisions every day, he said.

Kansas teachers are paid approximately $7,701 below the national average.

Tallman said 70 to 80 percent of school funding is spent on teacher salaries.

"On average, 75 cents out of every dollar goes to (teacher) salaries," Tallman said.

"There are a lot of teachers in my family and the joke is that nobody goes into teaching to become rich."

Tallman said not only are teacher salaries in Kansas low, the number of classrooms without teachers and the number of waivers requested for uncertified people to teach has grown in recent years.

"Again, the problem has been we couldn't find enough teachers to fill classrooms," Tallman said.

Budget problems also mean Kansas loses teachers to states that are willing to pay more.

"Many states have more of a teacher shortage than we do and they are willing to up the pay for them," Tallman said.

Although the salaries are problematic for teachers, Tallman said state school districts have been getting more bang for their buck.

According to the Kansas Department of Education, Kansas ranks in the top 10 among states nationally in ACT and SAT scores, reading and math scores, high school completion and percentage of the population with a diploma.

"All of this is done at a low cost for the money (teachers) are getting," Tallman said.

Tallman said the budget cuts in education should be cause for concern for everyone in the state; lower funding could mean less educational opportunities for students.

He also encouraged residents to get involved during the legislative session.

"There is not a whole lot I can tell them that will change their minds," he said. "It's what you tell them what's happening in your own schools."

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