Archive for Thursday, May 15, 2003

Legislature keeps education funding at bay

May 15, 2003

The conclusion of the Kansas Legislature's session saw no new bills reducing education funding for public schools. By the same token, Kansas officials didn't increase school funding either.

Legislators and school district officials call it being "held harmless." In reality, it's anything but.

With no funding increase s or decreases, the majority of Kansas schools are in the precarious position of having no new money coming into the budget.

For many school districts, increases in expenses such as teacher salaries, employee health insurance and utility costs will have to be found inside an already trimmed budget.

"Mostly the importance of the Legislature this year is what they didn't do," Basehor-Linwood School District superintendent Cal Cormack said. "At this point, we are still $27 per student behind where we were a year ago."Kansas school districts are funded per pupil. Last year, the per pupil allocations, $3,890, was reduced to $3,863 per student.

Fortunately, in Basehor-Linwood, new money is coming in because of an increase in student enrollment. School officials expect a 4 to 5 percent increase in enrollment next year, which could generate between $300,000 and $400,000.

However, that new money could be offset by a 19 percent increase in employee health insurance premiums and utility rate increases.

Also, the additional funds won't cover new textbook purchases, staff development and curriculum improvements.

Basehor-Linwood shouldn't have to eliminate programs or reduce employee positions. But, being "held harmless," doesn't leave room for salary increases to teachers.

Teacher salaries account for approximately 60 percent of the school district budget.

The salary for a first-year teacher in Basehor-Linwood ranges from $25,200 a year to $26,700.

"We just don't pay salaries to teachers that they deserve," Cormack said.

Although the school district won't cut positions, the salary crunch has already cost Basehor-Linwood qualified teachers.

An example of this is Josh Anderson, a former debate, forensics and language arts teacher at Basehor-Linwood High School. Anderson was highly regarded by students, staff and school district administration.

He resigned from Basehor-Linwood this year and accepted a position in the Olathe School District, where teacher salaries are higher.

Anderson is just one example of how Basehor-Linwood has proven to be a training ground for young teachers only to be hired away later by larger school districts, Cormack said.

"My guess is we could have held onto him if our salaries were more comparable," Cormack said.

Like many Kansas school districts, Basehor-Linwood hopes a new coalition will rise in the legislature where education funding is placed on a higher plateau.

Clearly education was bypassed in lieu of other areas for the revenue-strapped Kansas Legislature.

"We survived the legislative session but we didn't accomplish anything," Cormack said.

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