Archive for Saturday, January 4, 1992


January 4, 1992


Gov. Joan Finney said Friday she will ask the Legislature to accept the proposal of a task force she created to have the state set a uniform property tax mill levy to help finance elementary and secondary education.

Lawrence school district officials this morning say they're not ready to endorse the governor's plan, and two local legislators said they are intrigued by the idea but will reserve judgment until they see details of the governor's proposal.

Mrs. Finney commented briefly on her educational proposals after a two-hour luncheon meeting with members of the state Board of Education at Cedar Crest, the governor's residence in Topeka.

The meeting was part of Mrs. Finney's effort to improve communication among agencies of state government. She previously met with presidents of the six universities and said she plans to meet later with presidents of community colleges.

SHE URGED them the board of education members to forcefully exercise their power as a constitutionally mandated state body, and pledged to fight efforts to make the board appointed rather than elected, which is often proposed in the Legislature.

Besides confirming her support of a statewide school property tax, the governor said she endorses a recommendation of the Governor's Task Force on Public School Financing that local school districts be given extra spending authority for special education, vocational education, bilingual education and transportation.

The governor gave no details of what she will propose on the statewide mill levy. To collect the same amount of money from property taxes that now goes to public education statewide, a uniform levy of 58 mills would be required. Most legislators think that would be too high to gain approval, but believe something in the range of 40 to 45 mills might pass.

The lower a statewide mill levy is set, the more money that will have to be raised from income and sales taxes to replace reduced property tax revenue.

LAWRENCE SCHOOL Board member John Tacha said he was concerned that a statewide school mill levy might lessen the local autonomy of school districts, such as the ability of a school district to hold a referendum. A referendum for a property tax increase to raise the salaries of local teachers was passed in 1988.

Lawrence School Supt. Dan Neuenswander said this morning that "in itself, a statewide school mill levy doesn't speak to the issues at all."

Neuenswander said the real issues concern equity of funding for school districts statewide.

For example, he said, schools like Lawrence that are in the second-highest enrollment category receive less per-pupil funding than the five districts that are in the largest enrollment category. Neuenswander also noted that per-pupil spending in the state's school districts range from $2,700 to $10,000.

"It's one more example of fiddling around the edges and not dealing with the real problem," Neuenswander said of Finney's proposal.

REP. JOHN Solbach, D-Lawrence, said the statewide mill levy proposal will be a good starting point for the school finance debate during the 1992 session.

"It may be time for something like a statewide mill levy," he said. "The governor's proposal on its face would go a long way to creating a system that is more simple and more likely to be constitutional."

Solbach said he was somewhat concerned about having the state collect the tax and then distrubuting the money to school districts under a formula yet to be determined.

The entire Legislature is up for re-election this fall, but Solbach said he didn't think politics will get in the way of a solution to school finance.

"An election year does have an impact in the sense there is more potential for political posturing," he said, "but I think there will be consequences to pay if the Legislature doesn't accomplish something this year."

"If the Legislature doesn't come up with a school finance formula that is constitutional the courts will do it for us," he said.

Rep. Betty Jo Charlton, D-Lawrence, said the Legislature must be careful not to pass a statewide mill levy that raises less money than the state's 304 districts already raise with their varying mill levies.

"THE QUALITY of education will suffer is spending is reduced," she said. "If the statewide levy is set too low, money would have to come from the state general fund to maintain quality."

Mrs. Finney's top legislative aide, Gary Reser, told reporters the governor supports most of what the task force endorsed in November.

She set up the task force after Judge Terry Bullock of Shawnee County instructed the executive and legislative branches of government to get together on a plan for restructuring educational funding in Kansas.

Bullock held that the school property tax is a state tax and the state can dictate the mill levy and how the money raised from that source is spent.

Both the governor and Reser said Mrs. Finney's educational proposals still are being formulated for presentation to the 1992 Legislature on Tuesday, Jan. 14.

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