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Archive for Monday, April 20, 1998

LOCAL SCHOOLS FARE WELL UNDER PLAN

April 20, 1998

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A large chunk of the money coming from the school finance plan will go toward salaries.

The financial picture is much rosier now for Lawrence public schools than it was in January.

A school finance bill approved by the Kansas Legislature would bring in $2 million more to Lawrence schools, says Supt. Al Azinger.

``It will be pretty good for us, compared to what's happened to us in past years,'' Azinger said.

Azinger said that means there won't be a budget shortfall this year -- and the district will be able to keep pace with inflation in many areas.

``Obviously, a good chunk of that will go for salary increases,'' Azinger said.

It takes about $750,000 just to move staff up a year on the existing salary schedule, he said.

``If we do any improvement on the salary schedule we will take some of that money,'' Azinger said.

In January, local school officials strongly criticized Gov. Bill Graves' initial school finance recommendation.

Mary Loveland, school board president, said at the time she was ``terribly disappointed'' in Graves' initial recommendation of $35 per pupil for basic state aid to schools.

Last week, Loveland praised state legislators and the governor for increasing the base amount to $50 per student.

Lawmakers also changed a ``correlation weighting'' factor in the school finance formula, which will mean Lawrence's school district will get about $100 per pupil more than last year.

Loveland said the school finance bill ``is really more of a reflection on the positive economic forecast that all the analysts are giving.''

When the state's economic forecasts were updated on April 3, Graves improved his recommendations for schools, as he had earlier promised to do.

``It's exciting to think we can do a better job with staff salaries, because it's just a fact that we're losing ground as we try to compete with other school districts for quality employees,'' Loveland said.

Loveland said the salary schedule becomes a major issue when the district is seeking to fill key staff positions.

``When you have a strong candidate for a position and they're being courted by several school districts, our salaries, by comparison, were not what they should be,'' she said. ``So it's nice to think that we can have an opportunity to offer a little more this year.''

Loveland said she would hope the additional funding for the next school year will help the district hold its current teacher-student ratio.

Rep. Troy Findley, D-Lawrence, also was pleased about the funding package.

``When the consensus revenue estimates came back as high as they did, it gave the governor and the Legislature an opportunity to take another look at that recommendation and improve upon it,'' Findley said.

Besides the base budget increase and the correlation-weighting change, lawmakers also increased the at-risk funding from 6.5 percent to 8 percent, he said.

Findley said when state legislators return to Topeka on April 29 for a four-day wrap-up session, Democrats will try to increase state spending for special education.

Findley said he was also pleased that the school finance package contained a provision for early childhood education grants, which would target ``at-risk'' 4-year-olds. Findley and other Democrats had worked to get the proposal in the school finance package.

Lawmakers allocated $3 million for that program, expected to serve about 1,300 children next year.

School districts will be able to apply for grants on a competitive basis, he said.

Here are highlights of the $57.4 million school finance package, which is expected to be signed by the governor:

  • An increase of $28.4 million over last year for the base budget, increasing the per pupil amount by $50, from $3,670 to $3,720.
  • An increase of $20 million for larger school districts, such as Lawrence, because of changes in the correlation weighting factor of the school finance formula.
  • An increase of $6 million statewide for students identified as being at risk of dropping out of school.
  • A $3 million allocation for the new early childhood education at-risk program.

-- Dave Toplikar's phone message number is 832-7151. His e-mail address is dtoplikar@ljworld.com.

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