School-finance issues dominated today's annual pre-session meeting between local officials and Douglas County's legislative delegation.
Topping the list were Gov. Joan Finney's proposed statewide 45-mill property tax levy to finance schools and a Shawnee County District judge's hint that the state's system of financing public schools was unconstitutional.
"This decision is sort of the Russian Revolution of both taxes and education in this state there hasn't been anything like it in the history of the state," Sen. Wint Winter Jr., R-Lawrence, told a group of city, county, Lawrence school board and Lawrence Chamber of Commerce officials at the Adams Alumni Center.
"The judge erased the blackboard and said it's all over," Winter said. "Whether we come up with (a plan) that the judge approves or if he disapproves . . . it's going to have a dramatic impact on communities across the state."
LAWRENCE SUPT. Dan Neuenswander said that Finney's proposal looked good at first because it would lower the Lawrence district's general fund levy from 69 mills to 45 mills.
If the 45-mill proposal were adopted, it would reduce property taxes statewide by $195 million. The governor, however, made no mention of where schools would recoup the revenue.
"What we don't know is where the difference is going to come from," Neuenswander said.
"For some reason, they've chosen to give a little bit of information at a time," he said.
Winter asked those gathered if they thought the gain in lower property taxes would offset the loss of local control and perhaps a lowering in the quality of education. The question spurred lengthy debate, with several people questioning the relationship between local control and education quality.
LATER, WINTER polled the crowd on the tradeoff, but many people declined to participate because of the unknowns in Finney's proposal.
School board member John Tacha said local control of schools was an important issue. He said he thought western Kansas taxpayers would opt for higher property taxes for their schools because they see the 45-mill proposal as a consolidation measure.
"I think it's very important that we look at the entire state spectrum when we look at local control," he said.
City Commissioner Bob Schumm said he was for local control of schools but added the "mill rate levy guides us all." He said potential bond issues were constrained by local property taxes that are at "a top level."
Projects in Lawrence will be stagnated, Schumm said, until the inequity in the property tax classification system and the "terrific load" of property taxes that go to the schools is resolved.
IN OTHER issues, Rep. Betty Jo Charlton, R-Lawrence, said statewide uniformity in appraisals is needed and will "take precedence this year over a constitutional amendment on rates."
Rep. John Solbach, D-Lawrence, said one way the state could free up funds was by reducing its "overuse of institutionalizing" in areas such as mental health, health care and prisons.