Archive for Wednesday, April 2, 2003

Education funding could remain steady for school district

Early feedback indicates per pupil allocations will remain the same

April 2, 2003

It's time to test your powers of deduction.

If education represents nearly half of the state's budget expenses, and with Kansas ailing from an approximate $800 million debt, is it reasonable to think education funding will be reduced when legislators attempt to balance the budget?

If you said yes, you'd be right. And wrong.

Although still firmly in the crosshairs of possible reductions, early feedback from state education officials indicates that schools across Kansas shouldn't expect a budget reduction this year.

"We've been encouraged to think we can finish the year without a budget cut," Basehor-Linwood School District superintendent Cal Cormack said.

The feedback also indicates education may be safe next year as well.

Schools officials are told to expect the same per pupil funding next year as this year, approximately $3,863 per student. That price tag comes a year after the state legislature reduced per pupil funding by $27 per student.

"The best guess is to anticipate (next year) what we have this year," Cormack said.

The Basehor-Linwood School Board and school officials met Monday, March 31 to begin discussing budget plans for next year.

The school district operates with an approximately $12 million annual budget. Next year's budget will be finalized in August.

Thus far, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has followed through on her campaign vow not to reduce education funding.

Cormack said the governor has enacted economic policies that provide short-term relief and allows the feeble Kansas economy time to recover.

Although pleased funding isn't expected to be reduced, it is unlikely Kansas schools will receive any additional funds.

For the Basehor-Linwood School District, any new money would be generated by an enrollment increase. School officials project a four- to- five percent enrollment increase, approximately 80 to 100 students, for the next school year.

"The only new money coming in would be due to growth," Cormack said.

But that money generated from growth isn't expected to cover the costs of increases for things such as employee insurance premiums, and special education and transportation costs.

Receiving no additional funds could limit employee raises, which in turn, could impact the quality of school district education.

"It leaves very little new money to give our employees an increase," Cormack said.

Not giving raises to teachers becomes a dangerous game for school districts. It means teachers start looking elsewhere for work, such as burgeoning school districts in Johnson County with higher salary averages.

"Most of the Johnson County school districts are significantly above us now," Cormack said. "(Teachers), especially those with families, are going to have to start looking at some of these other districts.

"We will lose some to them. We know that," he added.

Until the Legislature concludes hearings sometime in May, it's anyone's guess what lies ahead for the fiscal future of Kansas school districts.

The Kansas Legislature is expected to wrap up hearings this week and return later this month to conclude business.

Sebelius could ask legislators to stay through April and work through the break.

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