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Archive for Wednesday, January 22, 1992

STAGE SET FOR BATTLE ON SCHOOL FUNDING

January 22, 1992

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— Lawrence's legislators found out Tuesday that the city's school district was in a "win-win" situation under Gov. Joan Finney's proposed school finance plan.

But because some school districts don't fare as well under the plan, legislators expect a lengthy battle over the plan, which involves the state taking over all funding for school disticts and levying a statewide school property tax of 45 mills.

A mill is $1 of tax for every $1,000 of assessed property valuation.

Not only do Lawrence school district property taxes drop 24.48 mills under the plan, but the district would get nearly $480,000 in additional state aid.

"It's almost too good to be true," said Sen. Wint Winter Jr., R-Lawrence. "My first reaction is very positive."

However, Winter said the most significant question is what would happen if the funding formula doesn't keep up with the local district's needs.

"How does the formula work with enrollment growth, how does it work with new school decisions, etc.," Winter said.

HE SAID not every district wins under the proposal for example, the Eudora school district loses about $302,000 in state aid, and its property taxes are cut only 1.18 mills.

"It's clearly a mixed bag," Winter said. "Lawrence would appear to be a significant winner from this printout. We have seen a proposal that would be very beneficial. . . . It's win-win. I think this means that parochially, we should approach the governor's proposal from a very positive standpoint."

Winter said that because an education department printout shows some districts lose state aid and see their property taxes rise, the stage is set for explosive debates over the governor's proposal.

Rep. Sandy Praeger, R-Lawrence, said the proposal looked "very good" for Lawrence.

However, she said the printout is not yet the basis for a bill.

"SO TO ASSUME that this is going to be the final product is making a rather big leap of faith," Praeger said. "But on the surface it is very positive."

Praeger, who sits on the House Education Committee, said many legislators are talking about alternatives to the governor's plan to replace the $217 million lost by the plan's property tax cuts.

Finney has proposed replacing the revenue by repealing some sales tax exemptions, accelerating some tax collections and by implementing a new video lottery.

"I personally don't like the video lottery, and I don't like the sales tax exemptions," Praeger said. "To my knowledge, nobody has come up with an alternative funding plan. And everybody is talking about possibilities. One possibility might be putting a surcharge on video rentals, if we could see what that would generate. . . . We've got to get cracking on some other alternatives."

REP. JOHN Solbach, D-Lawrence, said "you have to have hard money" to fund education and he said Finney's proposals were "soft."

"I don't think you can tie video lottery to school finance," Solbach said. "One, it may not produce the revenue they say. Two, it may not have the support to pass. It's an entertainment product that people may or may not want."

Solbach said he prefers seeing an upper-bracket income tax proposal as a way to raise new revenue. He said such a proposal probably will be made late in the session.

"If we can put together a budget without raising new revenue and without a general tax increase, more power to us," Solbach said. "But we shouldn't kid ourselves into thinking we're going to take money off trees around the Statehouse."

Rep. Betty Jo Charlton, D-Lawrence, said she wasn't surprised the printout on the governor's school finance proposal showed Lawrence's school property taxes would decline.

SO FAR IT is unclear what most legislators think about the plan, although legislators whose districts fare well under the plan will probably support it, Charlton said.

Charlton said she couldn't tell at this stage if the school finance formula would pass.

Some legislators who have only one school district in their legislative district can make an easy choice whether to support it or not, based on the printouts, she said.

But many legislators who have several school districts within their legislative districts have found that some of their school districts are winners and some are losers under the plan, Charlton said.

"It makes it kind of tough to vote for some of the members," she said.

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