Supposedly, Mark Twain observed that while just about everybody talks about the weather, nobody does anything about it.
The same could be said about Lawrence's property taxes.
No one showed up Monday to protest the school board's plan to tap the district's property taxes for an additional $4.9 million.
"I think this says Lawrence is a community that supports education," said board president Sue Morgan.
The board had the authority to levy an additional 6.437 mills but opted to shave 0.52 mills from the 2-mill increase proposed for the district's capital outlay fund.
"I believe the increase is needed - just not as much," said board member Craig Grant, who proposed the lower levy. "This is still an increase, it's just not as much."
Grant's motion passed unanimously, though board members Rich Minder, Linda Robinson and Cindy Yulich warned that delaying maintenance and repair projects put the district in a position of having to spend more later.
Board member Leonard Ortiz noted that the projected declines in the district's enrollment may reduce the stress on its buildings.
"I lean toward the idea of reducing it," Ortiz said.
Grant's motion cut about $450,000 from the proposed $1.8 million increase for the capital outlay fund, which can be spent only on equipment and building repairs, remodeling and maintenance.
At the same time, the board:
l Raised the local option budget (LOB) from 27 percent of the district's general fund to 30 percent;
l Enacted a new cost-of-living (COLA) provision that gives Lawrence and 17 other districts the authority to raise taxes for teacher salaries because of above-average housing costs.
Most of the LOB ($1.7 million) and all of the COLA ($1.3 million) will be used to underwrite an 8 percent pay raise for the district's 850 teachers. The raise won tentative approval last week.
After the meeting, Grant said he'd fielded tax-hike concerns from five constituents. Morgan said she heard from a comparable number.
"It wasn't an overwhelming number," she said. "Some of the ones I heard from said, 'Please do what you can to keep the mill levy down,' and then many of them went on to say they supported giving teachers a pay raise."
Because salaries account for more than 85 percent of the district's general fund budget, it is difficult to give teachers raises without additional revenue from either the state or local property taxes.
Morgan warned that even with the 8-percent increase, the district's teacher salaries lag behind those in neighboring Johnson and Shawnee counties.
"I think it's pretty clear this a community that supports education," Morgan said. "I just hope people understand the position we've been put in with the (state's) recent school finance decision."
Earlier this month, it became clear that all but about $600,000 of the district's $2.8 million increase in state aid had to be spent on special education and at-risk programs.
"Philosophically, none of us on the board think that education ought to be funded, substantially, on the local level," Morgan said. "But the state has chosen to go a different way, and this is pretty much what we're left with."
Morgan and others said the district's budget has been - and remains - hamstrung by low enrollment growth and more affluent districts to the east and west.
Board members have been told to expect steady to declining enrollments for about five more years.
"We're seeing a slight increase on the elementary school level and slight decreases on the middle- and high-school levels," said Robert Schwarz, a demographer with RSP Associates, an Overland Park firm hired to keep tabs on the district's growth.
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"Right now, your virtual school is your saving grace," Schwarz said, noting the program is expected to add 400 students to the district's 2006-07 totals.
The lack of public comment puzzled Lawrence resident Jack Greenwood, the only person who showed up to question the board.
"I believe in paying teachers, and I expect taxes to go up," said Greenwood, who's semi-retired. "I just think there ought to be a better way to explain where all the money goes. You look at the (charts) they put out - they don't tell the layperson anything."
The district's reporting requirements, Morgan explained, are defined by the state.
Greenwood said he was impressed by the board's decision to shave 0.52 mills off the capital-outlay levy.
"I think their vote tonight proved they were concerned," he said.
The overall increase - 5.9 mills - will be reflected in the December property tax statements.