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Archive for Wednesday, January 23, 2002

As Teacher of Year honored, governor, Legislature millions of dollars apart

January 23, 2002

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— Tuesday in the Capitol, a state Senate committee considered a no-new-tax budget that would cut funding to public schools.

Seven blocks away, Gov. Bill Graves and Lt. Gov. Gary Sherrer, who have called for tax increases for education, were honoring Kansas' teachers of the year during a luncheon.

The two scenes illustrate the distance between the two sides on the state budget and education.

Starting the second week of the legislative session, the Senate Ways and Means Committee began hearings on a proposal that would reduce funding to public schools by $22 million. A committee vote on the proposal is possible later this week.

The measure by Senate President Dave Kerr, R-Hutchinson, and Ways and Means chairman Sen. Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, would enforce 1 percent to 2 percent cuts throughout the budget and dip into emergency funds.

Kerr and Morris have said the proposal would bridge a revenue shortfall while protecting taxpayers from a tax increase during an economic recession.

To handle the cuts, Morris and Kerr introduced legislation that would make it easier for schools to dip into their contingency funds reserved for unexpected expenses. Districts without contingency funds about half the districts in the state would be able to issue "no-fund warrants," which would have to be paid through local property tax increases the following year, school officials said.

Graves opposes the Kerr-Morris cuts, but the governor declined to say whether he would veto the legislation if it wound up on his desk. He said he didn't believe there were enough votes in the Legislature to approve it because it would reduce per-pupil state aid $39 from $3,870 to $3,841.

"I'm still less than concerned that this bill has a lot of traction," Graves said.

Graves has proposed a quarter-cent sales tax increase, a 1-cent per gallon fuels tax increase and a 65-cent increase in the per-pack state tax on cigarettes to mend the state budget and provide increases for education and social services.

The winner of the Kansas Teacher of the Year contest was Tracy Callard, a fourth-grade teacher from Wichita.

Callard, a former corporate attorney, has been a teacher 11 years and earns about $34,000 per year. She said she made significantly more as a lawyer. But Callard said of teaching, "there is no better job on earth."

The Kansas Teacher of the Year program is sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officials and Scholastic Inc. and the state Department of Education. Winners are chosen by a panel of business people, legislators, education officials, students and parents.

Staff writer Scott Rothschild can be reached at (785) 354-4222.

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