Archive for Thursday, May 5, 2005

Cautious optimism for ‘05-‘06 budget

State school finance bill adds some uncertainty

May 5, 2005


After years of slashing expenses, Lawrence school officials are voicing some optimism about the district's budget.

Supt. Randy Weseman said Wednesday he doesn't expect the district to make cuts as it develops the budget for the 2005-06 school year -- but with schools statewide waiting for the Kansas Supreme Court to rule on the state finance plan, uncertainties remain.

"If we don't know by June, we can't get our budgets done," Weseman said. "It's kind of dicey at this point."

In January, the Kansas Supreme Court ordered the Legislature to change the state's school funding plan. The Legislature responded with a plan to increase school funding by $142 million and to permit local districts to increase property taxes. A hearing on the school finance package is set for Wednesday.

Under the Legislature's plan, the district could receive $5.3 million, including funds generated by increasing local property taxes.

Officials also mulled a scenario in which the district doesn't receive additional taxing authority. Under that plan, the district would receive about $3 million. And there are other possible scenarios.

"It's the unknown that is particularly hard to deal with," board member Sue Morgan said.

The board has already committed about $2.1 million in new spending for salaries and staffing.

Funds are still tight, officials said.

"There's really a great need and not a great deal of money to spread around," board member Leni Salkind said.

But this budget process differs from others in recent years, said Linda Robinson, a board member since 2001.

"This is the first time since I've been on the board that we've had any money," Robinson said.

District staff on Wednesday listed their funding needs, including additional personnel for technology, special education, and other areas.

Staff asked for funds to raise classified employees' salaries to more competitive levels and to raise pay for substitute teachers.

The wish list will be whittled down in upcoming weeks as board members establish priorities and some requests drop, Weseman said.

The board typically approves a final budget by mid-August.

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