It now appears almost certain that the Lawrence school district will be adding a local property tax to the 32-mill levy that will be collected by the state to support public schools.
The local district estimates that the funding it will receive from the state levy will allow it to increase its spending by $1,052,400 for next year. On Monday, school board members went through a list of recommended spending increases, approving almost every item. They agreed to a total of $1,046,650 in additional spending for next year, only $6,000 short of the entire amount of the expected state increase.
The only problem is that the expenditures approved Monday night didn't include any money for raises for district employees. The increases included several new positions to accommodate expected growth in the district but nothing for raises.
That means that, unless other cuts are made, any money spent on salary increases will have to come from a local mill levy, which would be collected on top of the 32-mill state levy. The state has given the district the authority to levy up to 7.4 additional mills to fund its budget. For this year only the first year of the revamped state school finance system districts can exercise that budget authority without it being subject to a possible public vote. In subsequent years, district patrons can protest local tax increases and force them to a public vote.
The full 7.4 mills would generate an estimated $2.9 million. The district can choose to levy 2 mills or 5 mills any amount up to 7.4 mills.
In negotiations Tuesday, the district's teachers proposed a 13.75 percent increase in what the district spends on teacher salaries. That much of an increase probably isn't in the cards. Not only is it well above the salary increases any other group of employees in the area could expect this year, but it is out of line in today's economy and would cost the district $2.442 million, most of what a 7.4-mill levy would raise.
But even the district's proposal to raise the teacher salary budget by 6.37 percent would cost the district $1,068,765. And that doesn't include the 5 percent raises the district hopes to provide for administrators and other employees such as secretaries, cooks and custodians.
During the salary negotiating session last week, Supt. Dan Neuenswander, who will leave the district at the end of this month, said the board had concerns about using its authority to levy a local school property tax on top of the 32-mill state levy.
Apparently the board isn't overly concerned. The state's new school finance plan was intended to reduce taxes, particularly property taxes. However, considering the additional sales and income taxes state residents will pay to support the new school finance plan and the local property taxes they apparently will have to pay to supplement local district budgets, one has to wonder if Lawrence taxpayers will really come out ahead.
It's so easy to spend someone else's money.