The Lawrence school board on Thursday began looking at ways to deal with an expected $2.7 million drop in state aid to the district, expressing serious doubts that the Kansas Legislature could override Gov. Joan Finney's veto of a bill that would provide those and other funds to the district.
Instituting fees for bus transportation, closing small elementary schools and cutting special programs are among moves the board is considering to cope with the budgetary blow.
Lawrence School Supt. Dan Neuenswander told board members that state aid provided through the school district equalization formula, which represents about 9.7 percent of the district's budget, is "essentially being removed."
That state aid would drop from about $3.3 million this school year to around $700,000 next school year.
THE BILL vetoed by Finney also would have provided the district about $1.5 million to handle enrollment growth and to provide a slight increase in per-pupil expenditures. The district still has the budget authority for those per-pupil increases, but funding for those increases would have to come from local property taxes.
"Typically, we've had a problem with not generating enough budget authority. That's not the problem this year," Neuenswander said. "The governor did not veto the budget authority. What she vetoed was the state aid."
The legislature will meet for its formal sine die adjournment on Tuesday, but Neuenswander said local legislators are not optimistic about an override of Finney's veto.
To finance everything the funding bill would cover, the Lawrence school district would have to raise its mill levy by about 23 mills, a 33 percent increase over the present district mill levy of 69.56 mills.
A mill is $1 of property taxes for every $1,000 of assessed valuation.
Neuenswander outlined options to funding everything the bill would provide.
HE SAID the board could attempt a zero mill-levy increase, which would require cutting district costs by about $2.7 million. The board also could attempt to maintain its current budget, which would require raising the mill levy by 12-13 mills to make up for the shortfall in state funds.
Neuenswander said that to hire 10 teachers to handle an expected enrollment growth of 250 students, and to provide negotiated salary increases for veteran teachers, an estimated 3.25 mill-levy increase would be needed beyond the 12-13 mill-levy increase.
Making up funding cuts for transportation and mandated special education programs also could require another 1.25 mills.
Board member Mary Lou Wright said the board might consider closing the district's smaller elementary schools.
Neuenswander said per-pupil costs are about $1,000 more in schools with one section at each grade level schools than they are at schools with three sections at each grade.
The board also will consider raising fees for such things as textbooks, extracurricular activities and renting school buildings. Board members also wanted to know if the district could legally charge a fee for busing.
Personnel costs constitute more than 80 percent of the district budget. However, the district already has renewed contracts for teachers and other personnel, so possibilities for personnel cuts are limited.
THE DISTRICT could save on personnel costs by not rehiring paraprofessionals whose one-year contracts were not renewed in April. The district also has imposed, for now, a hiring freeze for filling teaching vacancies.
Because state tax revenues are not made available until January, school district budgets actually extend six months beyond the regular fiscal year to cover expenditures between July and December. That carryover must be between 40 percent and 50 percent of the regular 12-month budget.
Neuenswander said the district could look at reducing its carryover. However, he said, the district might have to scramble to pay its bills in December if the carryover is reduced substantially.
The board will discuss the district's financial situation during a a forum to broadcast at 7 p.m. Thursday on Sunflower Cablevision. The board also will meet at 5:15 p.m. June 3 at the Lawrence High School library, 1901 La., to continue discussing budgetary matters.
Board member John Tacha said there is one advantage to being forced to go over the budget with a fine-toothed comb.
"I think it's going to be an opportune time to show people what we have to deal with year after year," he said.