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Archive for Sunday, July 7, 1991

SCHOOLS EYE 14% RAISE IN MILL LEVY

July 7, 1991

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Despite the Lawrence school board's approval of $975,400 in cost cuts and revenue-generating measures for the 1991-92 budget, property owners in the district can expect to see a 14 percent increase in what they'll pay in property taxes next year to support local schools.

For years the district has seen its state aid fall, but this year that funding plummeted by a whopping $2.6 million, and local taxpayers will have to make up some of the difference.

The present district mill levy of 69.56 mills is expected to rise about 9.85 mills to 79.41 mills.

A mill levy is $1 in taxes for every $1,000 of assessed valuation.

The owner of an $80,000 home would pay $762 in annual property taxes to support the school district under that scenario, an increase of $94.50 from this year's school district portion of the property tax bill.

Together with the board's approved budget cuts, the mill levy increase would allow the district to: maintain the dollar amount of the present budget; hire 10 teachers to handle an expected enrollment growth of about 250 students; make up for cuts in state funding for special education and transportation; and give teachers automatic "step" pay increases for additional time with the district and additional education.

THE COST-CUTTING measures approved by the school board include:

Closing Kaw Valley School, for general fund savings of $71,000. Those students now will attend India School.

Reducing busing service for junior high students to only those students who live more than 2 miles from school, for a savings of $43,000.

Hiring fewer subsitutes to cover the absences of secretaries, paraprofessionals and custodians, for a savings of about $50,000.

Increasing student textbook rental fees by $1.75, generating an additional $10,000.

Originally, district officials thought local property owners would face a 12-mill tax increase even with $900,000 in budget cuts. However, because of higher estimates for the district's property valuation and motor vehicle tax revenues, the mill-levy increase now is estimated to be 9.85 mills.

JERRY HANNAH, who became a board member on July 1, said he wants the mill levy increase to be even less.

"I'd like to shoot for a 7- or 8-mill levy increase," Hannah said. "I still have some questions about the budget that, as far as I'm concerned, haven't been addressed yet.

"I've gathered that the city commission and the county commission are still working very hard to look at every possible cut, and we as a school board need to continue doing that. I don't think we're finished with the budget."

Hannah said he wants to study further the possibility of reducing the district's "revolving fund," which covers expenses for six months of the year beyond the regular 12-month budget when the district is not receiving tax revenues.

The board will meet July 15 to release the district's proposed budget, and at that time the board might discuss other possible budget cuts.

THE BOARD probably will continue discussing the possibility of cutting a bus route along 27th Street for students at Broken Arrow School. However, when that issue was discussed last month, board member Harriet Shaffer said she opposed the proposal for safety reasons. Not all of 27th Street is bordered by sidewalks, she said.

Except for that busing issue, board members have made no mention of other possible budget cuts. Tom Murray, who like Hannah joined the board this month, said he also will propose no further cuts.

"The budget cuts proposed were reached by a consensus of the former school board," Murray said. "Had I been a member of the school board at that time, I would have voted differently on a number of the matters considered. However, in order not to disturb the previous consensus, I intend to concentrate on the budget issues that we will face during the coming year."

Board member Alice Fowler said she would like to look at possible cost-saving measures throughout the school year.

SHE SAID SHE anticipates "an ongoing internal audit to see if there are any areas where we could spend our dollars more effectively." She said the district might want to make more prudent use of school materials and see if school personnel can be employed more efficiently.

With more than 80 percent of the district's budget going to personnel salaries, the district's budget-cutting options are limited. The district renewed teacher contracts in the spring, back when district officials still had hope that its state aid might not be reduced so drastically.

"The board bit the bullet and decided that regardless of what the Legislature was going to do, we would keep the teachers we had," Fowler said.

Meanwhile, teacher and board negotiators have gone to impasse over next year's teacher salaries. The school board negotiating team has proposed increasing the base salary by nearly 1.4 percent. The Lawrence Education Assn. has proposed a 3.7 percent increase in the base salary.

IN ADDITION to the increase in the base salary, from which all teacher salaries are determined, negotiators have agreed that teachers would receive automatic pay increases that come with additional years with the district or additional graduate study completed.

To implement those increases, the district would have to put an additional $335,700 into salaries, a 1.9 percent increase over what was put into salaries during the 1990-91 school year.

The school budget could very well be determined before teacher salaries are settled, thus limiting the flexibility of salary negotiations.

Still, said Sam Rabiola, spokesman for the LEA negotiating team, "I would hope that there is room in the budget to pay for the excellence in teaching that the community and the board expect."

ONCE THE budget is approved for publication, funding for different budget items can go up or down, but the budget's overall dollar amount can only be reduced or kept the same.

"They still have some options," Rabiola said.

The estimated 9.85-mill levy increase reflects only those revenues needed for the general fund. While the mill levy for other parts of the budget might also rise slightly, those increases will be offset by the smaller mill levies needed for other funds, said Craig Fiegel, the district's director of business and curriculum.

For example, the board probably will approve increasing the mill levy for the capital outlay fund from 2.828 mills to 4 mills, Fiegel said. However, the mill levy needed for the bond and interest fund will go down. That's due to decreasing bond retirement payments for the construction of Quail Run School and other school improvements approved by voters in 1986, Fiegel said.

The school board will hold a public hearing on the budget in August.

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