Lawrence school officials formally announced their intent Wednesday to raise property taxes.
The announcement followed a two-and-a-half-hour study session, during which board members reviewed a long list of equipment purchases, program needs and maintenance projects.
Plans call for increasing the district's 6-mill capital outlay fund to 7 or 8 mills and pushing its local option budget from 27 percent of the general fund to 30 percent.
Taking the local option budget to 30 percent would raise an additional $1.7 million. Adding 2 mills to capital outlay would raise almost $2 million.
"We have a lot of deferred maintenance - the list is pages long," said board member Craig Grant. "The longer we wait, the more it's going to end up costing."
The capital outlay fund can be spent only on equipment, maintenance and building repairs. The local option budget is folded into the general and can be spent on anything. Teacher salaries, for example, are part of the general fund.
Neither increase is subject to a protest petition. Both will take effect in December.
The district's overall budget - $74 million - will be discussed during the board's Aug. 14 meeting, after which a legal notice will be published in the Journal-World. The board's decisions will be final after its Sept. 11 meeting. Both meetings will have time set aside for public comment.
Also, board members voted Wednesday to take advantage of a new cost-of-living provision that lets the district raise its general fund by as much as 4.37 percent.
Several board members have said they're likely to seek an additional 1 or 2 percent - not the full 4.37 percent. The exact amount will be decided at the Sept. 11 meeting.
A 1 percent increase would raise an additional $664,000; 2 percent would raise $1.3 million.
The cost-of-living provision is subject to protest. If 5 percent or more of the district's registered voters sign a petition opposing the increase, it would have to be put to a vote.
The board would have to either hold - and pay for - a special election or drop its pursuit of the increase.
The provision is limited to school districts where the average home valuation exceeds the state average by more than 25 percent.
Eighteen districts meet the criterion: Lawrence, De Soto, Tonganoxie, Lansing, Piper, Bonner Springs, Blue Valley, Spring Hill, Gardner, Olathe, Maize, Paola, Manhattan, Andover, Louisburg, Auburn-Washburn, Basehor-Linwood and Shawnee Mission.
In Lawrence, the average house is appraised at $216,338. Statewide, the average is $118,581.
The provision is designed to help the so-called "Sweet 18" districts increase teacher salaries to offset their above-average housing costs.
To be eligible for the provision, a district first must maximize its local option budget.
A quirk in the state's new school finance formula pushes the local option budget maximum to 31 percent next year - and subjects the increase to protest.
If voters were to overturn the increase next year, the district would likely be forced to cut several hundred thousand dollars from its general fund.
Grant predicted lawmakers will be asked to protect the new provision.
Supt. Randy Weseman warned board members that he has already heard from taxpayers questioning the district's need for additional revenue so soon after last year's $62 million bond issue.
"The reality is this is a big district with a lot of buildings that aren't getting any younger. If we don't keep them up, it's only going to cost us more later on," Weseman said. "That's the message that needs to get out, 'Nobody's trying to take you're money, we're trying to save you money.'"
Also, Weseman said he'd been assured that "the three districts to the east of us" intend to both maximize their local option budgets and pursue the cost-of-living increase.
That's not good news, said board president Sue Morgan.
"Our salaries are behind virtually every surrounding district - not just to the east but Topeka as well," she said.
"And with over 40 percent of our staff being age 50 years or older, we are looking at significant retirement and attrition in the next five years or so," Morgan said. "We need to be able to replace these people and unless we have competitive salaries, we won't be able to replace them with the quality that we demand, our community expects and our kids need."
Grant said the district doesn't have much choice.
"The amounts provided by the Legislature - even with the increase in LOB - don't cover the costs associated with teacher salaries and quality programs," he said. "And this is the tool - the only tool - they've given use to deal with it. It's up to us to use it."