Topeka If they were handing out grades, local legislators and a Lawrence school district official today would give Gov. Joan Finney high marks for her bold plan to increase state aid for school districts while lowering property taxes.
If enacted as submitted to the Legislature, the fiscal 1992 budget proposal would pump $251.7 million more into state aid to local public school districts next school year and reduce property taxes by $215 million statewide.
Finney's budget proposal would drop school property tax mill levies by 20 to 30 mills in many districts. Lawrence would receive additional state aid of $5.61 million, reducing the the mill levy by an estimated 18.82 mills.
"These figures are good. I feel it's important to reduce property taxes and increase funding of the state aid formula. That helps a lot of people," said Bob Taylor, assistant superintendent of the Lawrence school district.
Sen. Wint Winter Jr., R-Lawrence, said he was encouraged by Finney's support for education, but was concerned about her tax package, which would expand the sales tax base by adding the tax to a range of services not now taxed and repealing 35 exemptions.
"I'M SKEPTICAL about her plan to increase one tax to cut property taxes," Winter said. "I don't think you should raise one tax to lower another, but if you do, I believe that it should be education that benefits."
Finney also recommended that most school districts be permitted to increase their 1991-92 budgets by 1 percent, and by 3 percent if they had per-pupil expenditures below the statewide median in the current school year.
"People in education will be pleased with the budget limitations being proposed," Taylor said.
If districts used their full budget authority, the 1-3 percent increase would translate into an average 4 percent salary increase for teachers and an average 4.5 percent increase in the districts' operating budgets, according to state estimates.
"IN GENERAL, people understand the kind of economic situation we find ourselves in in Kansas and around the country," Taylor said. "But we will have to add teachers due to enrollment growth, which is not in the budget."
The governor's plan also would allow the 30 districts in the fourth enrollment category including Lawrence to raise their budgets by up to 4.4 percent next year, but not exceed the median expenditures of the fifth, or largest, enrollment category.
Winter said one of the best aspects of Finney's education budget is the proposed merger of the fourth and fifth enrollment categories over a three-year period, eliminating a controversy that has spawned lawsuits by districts in the next-to-biggest enrollment category.
He said the Lawrence school district is in the fourth category and has been denied extra state financing provided districts in the fifth enrollment category such as Wichita, Topeka and some in the Kansas City area.
"LAWRENCE IS 40 miles from Kansas City and competes in the same market for teachers," the senator said. "Merging the fourth and fifth will automatically increase the amount Lawrence gets from the formula. It will benefit Lawrence."
Under Finney's plan, general state aid to the state's 304 local school districts would increase by $161 million, the 24 percent income tax rebate would rise by $14.2 million, transportation aid would increase $6.5 million and she would provide a special $70 million additional income tax rebate for a total of $251.7 million.