Archive for Thursday, May 13, 2004

Future uncertain for schools

No funding increase could limit pay raises and textbook purchases

May 13, 2004

The failure of the Kansas Legislature to approve a funding increase for public education most likely will limit pay raises offered to teachers and textbook purchases, superintendent Jill Hackett said.

"(An increase) would have allowed us to offer better raises," Hackett said. "I could have purchased more in text books and offered more to maintain and attract personnel.

"We'll have a raise to some extent but not nearly what we wanted to."

And not nearly enough to satisfy the school district's goal of making Basehor-Linwood just as viable an employer as schools in Johnson County, where salaries are typically higher. Already, four teachers have rejected Basehor-Linwood so they could accept higher paying positions in Johnson County, Hackett said.

Just days after the Legislature ended its session, school officials in Basehor-Linwood felt the ill effects of no additional education funding. At Monday night's school board meeting, the purchase of classroom materials necessary for Kindergarten through 12th grade communication arts classes was limited to grades K-6 (see related story, Page 9B).

School officials said they most likely would fund materials for the remaining grades next year.

Although the inability of the Legislature to fix well-documented shortcomings in the state's funding model came as unwelcome news to the school district, Hackett said no new money shouldn't translate into personnel or program cutbacks.

"I think it's more of treading water or holding the status quo," she said. "We're financially quite solvent right now."

An advantage the school district has that some districts don't is that enrollment increases each year. Schools are funded per student; with more students next year -- school officials anticipate a 2 percent spike in student population -- some new money should be available.

The money provided by an increase in enrollment lessons the blow, at least to some degree, in Basehor-Linwood. However, not all districts are fortunate enough to serve in a growing community, Hackett said.

Hackett said she, like other superintendents, is disappointed with the Legislature's inaction. She also said its time politicos realize that well-educated students correlate with a thriving economy.

"We have to be patient enough to see what we can do with the money in the right place," she said. "We have to make sure the students of Kansas are educated in a system that allows them to compete."

The avalanche of controversy surrounding public education funding began in December 2003 when Shawnee County District Court Judge Terry Bullock identified failures in the state's funding model and ordered legislators to formulate a more equitable formula.

Ray Cox, R-Bonner Springs, representative for the 39th District covering Basehor, Bonner Springs and parts of Shawnee, said he is "totally disappointed with how things worked out," concerning the recent Legislative session.

"The Senate would not pass anything we passed," Cox said.

Democrats and moderate Republicans faced an uphill battle when lobbying for proposals that would raise taxes to provide more money for education, he said. Democrats and the moderate Republicans were unwilling to vote for measures that would have provided more money for education by pilfering from other state accounts or agencies, he added.

On Saturday afternoon, the Legislature voted on one last education proposal before ending the session. The bill would have added $82 million to education by taking money from the state's transportation fund.

Cox, who voted against the bill, called it "credit card economics or phantom funding.

"It's Enron accounting," he said. "That's all there is to it."

The drama surrounding education spending continued this week when Bullock issued an orderTuesday that said all school funding will be shut off June 30.

Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline said Tuesday he would seek a stay against Bullock's order until after the beginning of the next school year.

If Bullock's order goes through and funding is halted, it would mean 260 to 270 employees in the Basehor-Linwood School District would not be paid after June 30. Those monthly payrolls average nearly $600,000 a month net.

Education officials and legislators expect the case to end in the hands of the Kansas Supreme Court.

At that point, the future of education funding, even education itself, is a murky, said Cox, who may have summed the feelings of Kansans statewide concerned about the uncertainty of education.

"We don't want the courts running the schools," Cox said. "Right now, I just don't think anybody knows how this will play out."

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