Archive for Thursday, August 31, 2006

Board increases levy for schools

August 31, 2006

The Lansing School Board has approved a 2006-'07 district budget that increases expenditures by 18 percent from a year ago and raises the tax rate for property owners by 2 mills.

The board's 4-0 vote to approve the $23 million spending plan came after a budget hearing in which two members of the public asked members to give senior citizens and other property owners a break by reconsidering the mill levy increase.

The approved budget places the district's mill levy at 50.43 mills, up 1.974 mills from last year's levy. A mill is $1 in taxes for every $1,000 in assessed valuation.

The increase amounts to a school tax bill that will be about $22.70 higher this year for the owner of a home in the district valued at $100,000. Homeowners in Lansing also experienced an average 12.9 percent increase in valuation this year, which also will result in a tax increase.

Louis Klemp, who owns a storage business in Lansing, told the board districts throughout the county were raising their expenditures by double-digit percentages. Bonner Springs' budget is slated for a 27 percent increase; Tonganoxie's by 19 percent; and Lansing's by 18 percent, he said.

"That's good if everything keeps going up every year," Klemp said, noting trouble was around the corner if valuation increases don't keep pace in coming years.

Plus, he told the board, not everyone can keep up with the tax increases associated with valuation increases.

"We have to start looking at things that need be done to protect the seniors and those who do not make the income, the mean income, that Lansing makes," Klemp said.

Board members acknowledged the calls for holding the line on the mill levy rate but said the increase was needed.

Board president Shelly Gowdy was glowing in her praise of Superintendent Randal Bagby's work on the budget.

"When he came to this district, we had a history of our mill rates being a roller coaster - up 4 percent one year, down 2 percent, up 5, down 1. You know, it was crazy," Gowdy said. "Since Dr. Bagby came here, our mill rate has become much more flat. So instead of that 4 or 5 percent increase and next year a 3 percent decrease or a 4 percent decrease, it's holding pretty steady now around 2 percent."

Rich Totleben, a parent with two children attending district schools, also spoke during the public hearing. The Kansas Legislature increased per pupil state aid from $4,257 a year ago to $4,316 this year, which, Totelben noted, increased the percentage of the overall budget picked up by the state.

"If state aid rose from 48 percent to 52 percent - a 4 percent increase - why do you need a 2-mill increase?" he asked.

Totleben lamented that the district charged textbook rental for students and that parents had to pick up costs for such items as lab fees, activity fees, graphing calculators and other equipment - which he called a "kind of a backward tax" on parents.

"My question remains," he said. "What direct improvement in education, in quality education, are we gaining by this mill levy increase, or are we paying for administration? Are we buying better academic programs for the general student population or are we just paying for administration?"

Board member Rob Nicholas responded that the district was putting more money into the classroom through increased faculty and programs for students.

Gowdy, who noted administrative spending was flat in this year's budget, voiced unequivocal support for the district's administrators.

"One of the things I think is really critical for any district is having exceptional leadership in the administration," she said. "I think that too many people right now are saying we can be cutting this or doing this. I believe personally that the reason this district operates as it does and we have all the accolades that it does starts at the administrative level, because we have excellent leadership from Dr. Bagby and (assistant superintendent) Donna Hughes down to the building principals."

Board member Brian Bode noted a new expense in the coming year would be the $85,000 the district will pay for its share in the joint city-school board effort to extend Bittersweet Street from Lansing Middle School to the new Lansing Elementary School. The annual payment will continue for the next 15 years.

"It's critical to our bus transportation, it's critical to the parents who bring their own children to school," Bode said of the street.

The spending package approved by the board includes the 5.1 percent average pay increase for district teachers. The expenditure had been previously OK'd as part of a negotiated agreement between teachers and the board.

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