Signs point to an election probably in April for Lawrence school district voters to decide whether to give board members an extra $680,000 to spend.
"I don't like the idea of raising taxes. I pay them, too," school board member John Mitchell said. "But the way state finance for public education works, there's just really very little that our district can do other than to look at that option seriously."
In individual interviews this week, five board members said they supported asking voters to approve a property tax increase that allows them to increase the district's local option budget to the 31 percent cap allowed under state law.
The board is expected to discuss its options and vote during its 7 p.m. meeting Monday at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive.
Supporters have mentioned the money could help fund raises for teacher salaries and for mental health services.
School board president Linda Robinson said based on current enrollment figures and property valuations, the owner of a $200,000 home would pay an extra $1.15 per month in property taxes. That's about $14 per year.
Board members Robinson, Mitchell, Marlene Merrill, Rich Minder and Craig Grant indicated in interviews this week they were leaning toward asking for the election. A likely date for an election would be April 1.
"Unfortunately, we can't wait until the Legislature acts (on school funding) sometime in late May or early June before we consider this. We need to be proactive," Minder said.
But because no regular county election is scheduled until August, the district would have to pay about $45,000 for the election itself. The district already has $20,000 budgeted for elections, and the rest would come from a reserve fund.
"I don't see any other way to do it," Merrill said.
By law, school districts can levy property taxes to supplement the money they receive from the state. This is called the local option budget, or LOB. Districts now can raise their LOB up to 31 percent of their state general fund, and currently Lawrence's LOB is at 30 percent.
A recent change in state law requires voter approval to increase the LOB by 1 percent. The state also mandates how certain funding streams can be spent, such as on buildings or for specific classroom instruction.
Board members this week most frequently mentioned the LOB increase could support salaries to compete with Johnson County area districts. They also mentioned helping fund some version of the WRAP program with Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center. It puts social workers in schools and has had funding woes since grants ran out.
The board also has to consider millions of dollars in other requests, such as for new high school band uniforms and for giving elementary teachers more planning time.
Board members Mary Loveland and Scott Morgan said they need more information before deciding whether to support the election.
"We just can't simply ask for more money because we want more money," Morgan said. "We have to articulate what we would do with it or what we couldn't do without it."
Other board members acknowledged they would have to lobby voters for support and include a list of priorities.