Despite the ability to increase spending for education and still see a decrease in school property taxes, the Lawrence school board has some tough spending decisions to make this year, one board member said this morning.
The Lawrence district's 1992-93 budget was the topic of discussion this morning at the Lawrence Education Round Table, a local forum for discussing educational issues. About 12 people attended the meeting at the American Bistro restaurant.
Under a new school finance plan developed by the Kansas Legislature, the Lawrence district's general fund mill levy will drop in 1992-93.
The board could spend an additional $1,052,400 and still see the general fund mill levy drop from 69.48 mills to 32 mills.
THE BOARD also has the option to raise its budget authority by as much as $2.9 million beyond the $1,052,400. That would result in a general fund mill levy of about 39.4 mills if the board exercised that option to the full extent.
Board member Jerry Hannah said this morning that despite those options, the board still has some tough choices to make. He said keeping the general fund mill levy down is especially important because the board might ask voters to approve a bond issue for new schools in the fall.
"We're in a school district in which bricks and mortar, in my opinion, must be given a high priority," Hannah said. "That's hard to say because you've got to have teacher salaries. You have to have curriculum materials. You have to have other things in the classroom.
"The board is in a dilemma."
Rep. Sandy Praeger, R-Lawrence, who also attended this morning's meeting, said she hoped all districts would keep an eye on property taxes. She said the Legislature passed the new school finance plan "with the idea that we were giving property tax relief."
She noted that the lower property taxes will be offset in part by a state sales tax increase of .65 of a cent and higher income taxes for people in upper income brackets.
UNDER THAT scenario, she said, "Most middle-income people who own property are going to see a tax decrease."
The board Monday gave tentative approval to $1,046,650 in expenditures, which is just below the additional $1,052,400 the district can spend without raising the general fund mill levy above 32 mills. If those expenditures are approved, the board will have to exercise its option to raise the mill levy to provide any kind of salary increase for teachers and other school employees.
Sandee Crowther, the district's director for staff development, said much of the $1,052,400 was used to reinstate budget items that had been cut last year in response to a $2.6 million drop in state aid.
Gary Watson, research analyst with the Kansas Department of Education, has said that about $850,000 of the $1,052,400 was allocated merely to handle the district's projected enrollment growth.
"The message is that there isn't as much flexibility as people might think" in creating the budget, Gene Ramp, round table chairman, said after this morning's meeting. "We are locked into certain limits on spending that do require some tough decision-making."