Three questions with ... Linda Robinson, school board president
It comes down to spending more to get more.
At least that's the philosophy Lawrence school officials are working under as board members consider next year's budget.
This coming school year, the school district will receive an estimated $1.6 million in new state funding to help offset the cost of opening the new South Junior High School and other new classrooms. This will be the first year in the two-year state funding program.
But that state aid will flow into the district's general fund. And the growth in that fund means local taxpayers could face a tax increase.
That's because the district's local option budget must equal 30 percent of the general fund to qualify for certain money. So as that fund grows, the LOB also must increase. The LOB is funded by local taxpayers.
So the board is considering raising local property taxes by 3.086 to 3.586 mills.
"The only way to not have that increase would be to say, 'Keep your money,' which we have to have new desks and you have to put things in the building," board president Linda Robinson said of the new facility funding from the state.
Kathy Johnson, the district's division director of finance, said because the two-year state program isn't permanent, the money can't fund ongoing costs, such as salaries.
"The intent was that it helps school districts with all those startup costs for new schools and new classrooms," Johnson said.
The proposed property tax increase this year of about 3 mills is less than the increases of more than 5 mills each the last two years.
According to early projections, the owner of a $150,000 home in the district would see an annual increase of about $50, and total annual taxes to the district of about $1,000. A mill is $1 in taxes for every $1,000 of assessed valuation.
With teacher-contract negotiations still ongoing, board members have not yet taken action on a list of new requests, including $815,184 for 16 full-time learning coaches in the district to help teachers at elementary schools and East Heights Early Childhood Center.
School districts are people-intensive. The Lawrence district, for example, spends 86 percent of its budget on salaries and employee benefits, Robinson said.
"It doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room for the new requests," she said.
The district will offer all-day kindergarten at eight elementary schools because of about $600,000 in funding for at-risk students coming from the state.
Board member Scott Morgan said in general that the board should carefully consider local property tax increases.
"You've got to make real sure you need (the taxpayers) because you're asking a lot of them, particularly those on fixed incomes," he said.
Board members next will discuss approving a maximum district budget at their July 23 meeting. A public hearing will be Aug. 13.
Local government budgets have been a hot topic the last few months. Leaders in both the city and county also have signaled they may seek property tax increases.
County Administrator Craig Weinaug has proposed a budget to county commissioners that asks for a 0.75 of 1 mill increase to help fund economic development initiatives and more jail staff for transitional service programs.
At City Hall, leaders have mentioned a 1 mill increase to offer a 2 percent to 3 percent increase in salaries for city employees and to alleviate proposed cuts to the Lawrence Transit System. City Manager David Corliss is expected to release his proposed budget this afternoon.