Archive for Wednesday, March 30, 2005

School funding bill could spark tax increase

March 30, 2005


— A plan to increase public school funding without a tax increase could actually increase taxes. Confused?

Legislators who back the plan are quick to point out that schools will receive a significant increase in funding without a statewide tax increase.

But statewide is the key word and caveat. Local property taxes would go up as much $500 million across the state, according to some estimates.

The estimated increase in Lawrence could total approximately $4 million, which is more than most districts.

State and local officials say those tax figures are rough estimates and contingent upon many decisions, the biggest of which is whether the Kansas Supreme Court would allow such a plan to become law.

The state Supreme Court has ruled the Legislature has failed its constitutional responsibility to fund schools at a suitable level. It has given the Legislature until April 12 to increase funding and distribute those funds in a more equitable manner.

Last week, the Senate approved a school finance plan that could add as much as $127 million in state funding. The House is expected to approve that plan today.

But the rest of the proposal depends on local taxpayers.

Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, who voted against the bill, said the Legislature was "passing the buck."

Lawrence school board member Sue Morgan agreed.

"That's exactly what they're doing," she said. "They've consistently done that."

The plan would allow districts to increase property taxes to raise up to 30 percent of their general fund budget over a three-year period. The current maximum is 25 percent.

In addition to raising the cap on the local option budget, called the LOB, 17 school districts, including Lawrence, could raise it an additional 5 percent and dedicate that tax money to teacher salaries.

The current mill rate on the local option budget in Lawrence is 14.046 mills. On a $150,000 home in Lawrence, the assessed valuation for the local option budget would be $17,250, which would mean a tax bill of $242.29.

Under the proposal before the Legislature, the Lawrence school board could raise the tax rate by 1.61 mills for teacher's salaries, which would produce $1.33 million.

In addition, the local option budget proposal would allow a 1.2 mill increase in the first year of the plan, 1.2 mills the second year and .6 mills in the third year.

These mill figures were provided by the Kansas Department of Education.

That would bring the LOB mill levy to 18.646. Applying that to the same $150,000 home would mean a tax bill of $321.64, or $79.35 more than the current bill. And that doesn't take into account the probable increase in assessed valuation.

Morgan said if the bill became law, the tax increases would have to be discussed by the board. But she feared that increasing the local option budget would increase the disparity in school funding statewide.

"If you took advantage of those options and the court strikes it down, and you've used it for ongoing expenses, where are you?" she asked.

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