Archive for Monday, March 17, 2008

District makes case for raising taxes

Statistics show Lawrence teacher salaries losing ground in state

March 17, 2008


Supporters have uttered a familiar line in trying to drum up support before the April 1 Lawrence school district local-option budget election.

They say the $679,000 is needed to recruit and retain teachers who may otherwise be wooed by Johnson County school districts, such as Shawnee Mission, Olathe and Blue Valley.

According to Kansas State Department of Education statistics, Lawrence's average teacher salary in 2006-07 was $48,348, including benefits and supplemental salaries. In comparison, average teacher pay was $59,216 in Shawnee Mission, $56,678 in Blue Valley and $52,739 in Olathe.

Though after three years of raises in Lawrence to try to catch up on teacher salaries, the district lost ground after last year's average 3.28 percent raise, say leaders of the district's teachers group, the Lawrence Education Association.

They cite Kansas National Education Association data that has Lawrence dropping from 52nd to 73rd with benefits and supplemental compensation included, and from 41st to 59th without the benefits.

"I know that by the fact we did drop in state rankings, that is not going to help," said LEA president Adela Solis, a Cordley School teacher.

School board members are seeking the authority from voters to raise the extra money from the local-option budget, or LOB, which is funded by local property taxes. If successful, the $679,000 would allow school board negotiators to make a higher salary raise offer to the LEA during contract negotiations. The new money could also help fund the WRAP program, which places clinical social workers from Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center in some schools.

School districts are restricted by state law on how much they can tax and on how they can spend funds, such as for staff salaries versus building and capital costs. Administrators expect to receive an additional $2.1 million in funds from the state for next year, but about half is earmarked for certain purposes, such as special education.


Lawrence Superintendent Randy Weseman said it's hard to compare Lawrence's tax base with Johnson County's. Still, Lawrence also offers things other communities don't, such as being home to Kansas University, he said.

"Lawrence being unique, we have been able to hang in there with quality teachers and staff. ... We have a quality-of-life issue that appeals to people," Weseman said.

Lawrence school board member Craig Grant said one reason he voted to put the LOB question on the ballot was that Shawnee Mission and Blue Valley had already approved to go to the maximum LOB allowed, which is 31 percent of a district's state general fund.

Lawrence is seeking to go from 30 percent to 31 percent through the election. Johnson County districts have also benefited from an economic development county sales tax, which is set to expire at the end of this year.

One question is how the comparison between Lawrence and area districts translates into student achievement. Weseman said Lawrence has strong academic tradition and also beats the state average on assessment scores, although some areas need improvement.

According to state education department data from 2006-2007, Lawrence - except for fifth-grade reading when it beat Shawnee Mission - had a lower percentage of students score proficiently in math and reading at Blue Valley, Olathe and Shawnee Mission at three different grade levels.

Solis, citing KNEA figures, said she's concerned that Lawrence has fallen behind many other area districts in certain levels of the salary schedule, which determines teacher pay based on experience and education.

LOB's impact

For Lawrence property owners, a successful election could mean a tax increase - one of about $14 more per year for the owner of a $200,000 home.

Some say they want the district to be more efficient because property taxes place an unfair burden on older residents.

"I think there are much better ways at doing it than this," said Craig Sundell, of Kansans for Common Sense and Accountability, a political action committee.

Weseman said it might be difficult to persuade some voters to approve the measure because a property tax increase can be burdensome to residential homeowners. The LOB increase would equate to a 0.48 mill increase. A mill is $1 in taxes for every $1,000 in assessed valuation.

"When that's the only tool we have, you have to ask," Weseman said.

But he also said that even if the April 1 vote were successful, it wouldn't guarantee a net property tax increase because the LOB increase is only one piece of the district's budget puzzle.

Last summer, after 2007-2008 budget discussions began about a 3.5 mill increase, Weseman recommended offsetting that increase by lowering other levies, the bond-and-interest and the capital outlay fund, mostly because the 2005 bond projects were bid under budget.

"There's no guarantees at this point, but the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior," he said.

Teacher retention

As advance voting began last week, board members have tried to provide information to parents about the election. The LEA has also supported the LOB increase.

Grant said as about 40 percent of the district's work force becomes eligible for retirement in 12 to 14 years, salaries will remain a hot issue.

"You want to be able to replace them with a mix of young teachers and veteran teachers," he said. "And in order to attract those teachers to the district and retain them, it's going to take us to have a competitive salary situation."

Solis said teacher retention is also important based on the cost of bringing new teachers up to speed.

"It's expensive," she said. "Though salaries for new teachers may not be expensive, training them and getting them up to par with what's going on educationally ... that all costs money."


KsTwister 9 years, 1 month ago

As they tax more families this school system will see less of a need for the money as they take their kids and move. The school board at least is consistent in that they always need more for teachers wages and when they get it, spend it elsewhere. This time is a resounding "no". I can find no one who will support another increase at this time. The one who is getting a better education seems to be the taxpayers. Finally.

Richard Heckler 9 years, 1 month ago

While developers continue to push the envelope for more residential construction which makes them tons of dough are they donating the space for more public schools OR is this on the back of taxpayers again? What about that?

Who wants to build new neighborhoods which creates the need for additional infrastructure? The chamber/real estate/development community. If this were put to a vote the majority of taxpayers would vote STOP IT NOW.

They and the city/county commissions create the tax dollar problems. More homes,more students = increased need for staffing = more tax dollars. If residential growth paid for itself and was financially positive we would not be in a budget crunch.

Placing a thousand acres aside for low paying warehouse jobs will not create the type of economic growth/return taxpayers need from a $50- $70 million tax dollar investment. Rebates,TIF's and abatements will not drive a net gain. This is what the our USD 497 is up against.

Richard Heckler 9 years, 1 month ago

Find a way to use the more than $2 million left from new construction and apply it academically. Some of us are not impressed with spending $45,000 to get $600,000: this will create problems. If the $2 plus million were to spent more wisely voters might approve the increase. I think this vote is in trouble which will be a waste of $45,000.

Do I believe USD teachers deserve higher pay? absolutely!!

Do I believe spending $2 million on the athletic fields is a worthwhile venture? No I don't . If it cannot be spent academically spend it on school buildings toward energy efficiency. I believe the powers that be would make an exception and allow capital improvement money to be spent academically. Has anybody asked?

Richard Heckler 9 years, 1 month ago

The fact that this city and county commission is constantly increasing the cost of community services to all taxpayers with new infrastructure and new projects weekly.This mismanagement style of government puts this vote in dire straits. USD 497 has heavy competition for tax dollars which works against the school district. The city and county both have big time tax dollar projects that WILL NOT pay back anytime soon on the table which potentially means property owners pick up the tab. Both want to increase taxes.

Consider this: The city's current budget crunch can be tied directly to infrastructure expenses needed to serve new housing developments. If residential growth paid for itself and was financially positive, we would not be in a budget crunch. But with increased numbers of houses you have increased demand on services, and historically the funding of revenues generated by residential housing does not pay for the services they require from a municipality.

There are a lot of empty homes in Lawrence,Kansas. Some of these brand new homes have never had owners and have been on the market for nearly 12 months. If owner occupied homes do not pay for themselves how will more new empty homes make things better. I'd say the city and county commissions favor the Chamber led development/real estate industry over our need for maintaining an excellent public education district. An excellent public education district and a great Vo-Tech system is worth far more towards encouraging economic growth than more and more new residential will ever be.

hail2oldku 9 years, 1 month ago

Valkyrie_of_Reason (Kathy Getto) says:

Student and Instructional support is mainly teacher salaries. If you want to cut substantial costs it would have to be primarily teaching staff.

Hail - please explain the extra layers you speak of.

Sorry Kathy, but you are reading this incorrectly. With teachers pay taking as much of the budget as it does, there is no way it is in Student and Instructional Support. Teacher pay is in Instruction. I think I've answered the other part of your question regarding layers in other posts.

Richard Heckler 9 years, 1 month ago

When the city and county come out with it will only cost this much on certain value amount.....

How many times have taxpayers heard this over the past 20 years?

Each time property values are inflated how much more then are taxpayers truly paying?

The point here is taxpayers have the city/county commissioners, in which 6 of 8 were funded largely by the development community, pushing hard for NEW projects which will require tax dollars and likely increase the cost of community services forever. While at the same time not investing in maintenance of older infrastructure. This needs to stop.

If taxpayers are feeling like they cannot afford USD 497 and cannot afford to maintain older vital infrastructure why are the city and county governments constantly increasing our liability?

satchel 9 years, 1 month ago

Where does all the money go each time they raise taxes to give to the schools? Perhaps in the administrators and higher up's pockets? New buildings and maintances perhaps., but what about the teachers? I am willing to bet it gets caught up in the beurocracy instead of going to the teachers where it SHOULD GO. I think this has been the typical history of public schools. The money is given to the administration or the higher ups before it gets to the teachers. I would love to see how high the administraters salaries have gone in the past 10 years as opposed to the teachers. Apparently in Lawrence they haven't given as much to their teachers as Olathe, Blue Valley and Shawnee have given. Perhaps the problem is with the beurocracy in Lawrence, not the fact that there isn't enough money.

MattressMan 9 years, 1 month ago

They are seeking more money yet dont have the brains to try and save where they can. It is probably a bad example but as we sit here today the LHS baseball team is on an extended road trip into the state of Oklahoma. Why?

tir 9 years, 1 month ago

No offense, but if the average teacher in Lawrence makes $48,348, that's WAY more than I bring in per year. And yet, it seems that just about every year, the District comes back to me (and other lower income taxpayers) asking for more money for teacher salaries. Small wonder that I don't feel particularly inclined to oblige this year.

Richard Heckler 9 years, 1 month ago

Put the $2.6 million excess back into the buildings towards energy efficiency thus reducing operating costs.

Why not install solar energy systems on the high schools and the USD 497 office building? Get off the primary grid and maybe sell some energy back??

JOCO school district passed a 1/4 cent economic growth sales tax to provide some additional funding to the school district. The general consensus nationwide is an excellent public school district creates economic growth.

Lawrence leaders chose instead to develop a high tax bedroom community which does not create economic growth but high tax bills which as we see makes it difficult for taxpayers to jump on the USD 497 bandwagon in spite of the fact it is a better bang for the tax buck by far.

Richard Heckler 9 years, 1 month ago

I would not put too much stock into those average numbers because that does not cover those on the lower end of the spectrum which may be many. Otherwise there might be the concern of losing teaching staff.

LogicMan 9 years, 1 month ago

"Vote "NO". Vote early. Vote often."

Ditto, and help all your friends and neighbors to get out and vote NO too.

It's time to send a firm message to elected officials to tighten their belts, like we are having to.

LJW: How 'bout publishing these comments in your printed version tomorrow? Today's 'pro' article lacked balance, so a 'con' article is needed.

OnlyTheOne 9 years, 1 month ago

What's important to Lawrence's school district? I'll tell you.We have a quality-of-life issue that appeals to people," Weseman said. Yes Mr. Weseman's and other administrators! The suits ain't sufferin'.

hail2oldku 9 years, 1 month ago

I have no problem with giving the teachers an increase in pay. I don't have a problem with the number of them living out of town and driving in because they can't afford housing in town.

I have no beef with trying to improve the school district's athletic facilities - let's face it folks they are a joke compared with peer districts in the area.

I do have a problem with the district asking for more money from the taxpayer's though. If our district were run more efficiently, it wouldn't need to ask for more money. Randy and his good ol' boy network has been living large with little to no accountability. Cut the layers of fat at the administration building. Put administrators in the schools that actually do school work instead of running their NCAA Brackets or setting up their Pool Tournaments. Do away with the early dismissal on Wednesday since the only collaboration many teachers do is how to get out of the building as fast as possible. This would allow for a shorter school year meaning lower utilities, less time paying building support staff, etc.

These are just a few of the reasons I will vote no.

mom_of_three 9 years, 1 month ago

I would like to know how the school budget is spent. Several years ago, the state cut the funding for the school district and the school fees skyrocketed. Then a couple of years ago, the funding was reinstated, but the fees charged to parents haven't reduced. So where is the money going? I know finally school bus fees are reduced a bit, but not gone.
If they can prove they need the money, then I would vote yes. But I think there is some money somewhere.

deskboy04 9 years, 1 month ago

Where is this year's national school board convention? I'll bet that it's in a nice warm weather location.

gr 9 years, 1 month ago

"If the $2 plus million were to spent more wisely voters might approve the increase."

You're right. There is waste galore! Playing sports is fine, but I'm not sure how one could support spending $2 Million for athletic fields as a return on investment. Totally unnecessary. Wouldn't spending $2 Million for teaching kids give a better return than burying it in the ground? How does spending that much for sports ever help educate a kid for meeting the requirements for life?

Let's see an itemized list of expenditures. I bet with minimal effort, there is so much waste, those teachers could have a much greater salary. But, I bet the school board wouldn't want the public to see the enormous waste.

George_Braziller 9 years, 1 month ago

"the district lost ground after last year's average 3.28 percent raise"

Waaaahhhhh. A 3% across the board COLA is all the staff at our agency have ever gotten. Last year it was 2%. It would be interesting to know what the range of raises was to come up with the "average". Who got the 1% raise and who got the 15 or 20% raise?

headdoctor 9 years, 1 month ago

Merrill, that $2 plus million construction savings is not money that just fell from the sky. It is money that either didn't need to be borrowed or is money that was borrowed and needs to be paid back plus interest. School financing is just like the election process. It is governed by laws that the rules are created from. The way it stands now you cannot mix capital improvements with the annual budget. If you don't like the system try to change it. I personally think it stinks that the school can blow thousands of dollars on temporary class rooms because they need voter approval for building repair and or replacement. At the same time I don't want to allow the school board to just start building schools with out some sort of check and balance. There needs to be more oversight in what s going on with the annual budget.

Richard Heckler 9 years, 1 month ago

" headdoctor (Anonymous) says:

Merrill, that $2 plus million construction savings is not money that just fell from the sky."

Yes I know but if it's going to be spent I say spend it wisely on other buildings or put the high schools on solar power.

Kathy Theis-Getto 9 years, 1 month ago

gr (Anonymous) says: Let's see an itemized list of expenditures. I bet with minimal effort, there is so much waste, those teachers could have a much greater salary. But, I bet the school board wouldn't want the public to see the enormous waste.

Where is the waste?

Kathy Gates 9 years, 1 month ago

You're complaining about spending an extra $1.17 a month if you own a $200,00 house? I know they've got money from the bond issue. They can't spend it on academics, can they?

williaa 9 years, 1 month ago

I'm not sure where that average salary came from. I work for the school district, have a masters degree, and make about 10-15k less than my peers I graduated with who work elsewhere. I choose to continue to live and work in Lawrence, because I love this city. However, between the outrageous cost of housing here and the lag in salary we are scraping by each month. I can't afford to pay the tax hike that will increase my salary!!

Godot 9 years, 1 month ago

The school board should cut $600,000 from the administrative salary line of budget and move that over to the teachers' salaries.

Richard Heckler 9 years, 1 month ago

I would rather spend money on education any day of the week.

But city /county government keep increasing tax bills this way yet we never get a chance to vote it down. Adding these items to our tax bills is not necessarily a sign of fiscal responsibility...quite the opposite. It increases the cost of community services each time new homes are approved: water and sewer line streets and repairs houses public schools fire stations law enforcement manpower sidewalks snow removal bike trails and cross walks Traffic signals Traffic calming developers requesting more tax dollar assistance(new infrastructure) for their warehouses and retail strip malls.

*In general increases the cost of community services to all taxpayers which is a tax increase. Where is the outrage?

Lawrencereader 9 years, 1 month ago

How many of you complaining on this board have ever attended a school board meeting or read the annual budget that is published every year? Not a one of you, I bet. Before you complain about all the money being "hidden", look at the budget and see where it all goes. Until you are informed about how money is spent in school districts, you are just whining.

hail2oldku 9 years, 1 month ago

Hawk - that $48k isn't an average salary, that takes into account the fringes like life/health insurance, the employers portion of FICA, WC, U/I, etc.

I can also find a large group from K-Mart distribution that lives elsewhere and drive in to work so don't try and throw that one out there either.

I'm not saying there aren't some out there doing better than alright for themselves.

I'm just pointing out that I wouldn't have any problem paying the teachers more and the administrators less.

You point out Bracciano, I'd like to add Hunter who reports to Bracciano. What the hell is he doing to earn his paycheck? That's just two in the layer that are being paid better than our educators and doing less for that money.

What about the school secretary that is getting extra duty pay for lunch duty while collecting her regular pay at the same time? How much double-dipping is going on this district that could be eliminated and the saving could be used to cover the proposed pay increase.

Do we really need a Chief Academic Officer, Director of Curriculum, Social Studies, Specialist, Science/Health/PE Specialist, Career/Technical/Fine Arts Specialist, Information Resources Specialist and a Special Ed Specialist? What about a Director of Assessment and Director of Instructional Services?

I think you get my point. There is plenty of fat to be trimmed before we need to give the school district any additional funding.

hail2oldku 9 years, 1 month ago

Lawrencereader (Anonymous) says:

How many of you complaining on this board have ever attended a school board meeting or read the annual budget that is published every year? Not a one of you, I bet. Before you complain about all the money being "hidden", look at the budget and see where it all goes. Until you are informed about how money is spent in school districts, you are just whining.

Been there done that reader. There is plenty of fat to be cut. I come from a family of educators and know that we could be running this more efficiently.

hail2oldku 9 years, 1 month ago

Valkyrie_of_Reason (Kathy Getto) says:

gr (Anonymous) says: Let's see an itemized list of expenditures. I bet with minimal effort, there is so much waste, those teachers could have a much greater salary. But, I bet the school board wouldn't want the public to see the enormous waste.

Where is the waste?

General Administration, School Administration, Operations & Maintenance all have extra layers that could be trimmed. Can you get some detail on the $12 million in other? There is probably some that can be sliced there as well as in Student and Instructional Support.

BigPrune 9 years, 1 month ago

Are there very many children moving into Lawrence, or are people just laying around having children? I'd like to a historical chart displaying enrollment numbers over the past 20 years - that also differentiates between REAL school and VIRTUAL school.

I'd also like to see the school district do away with half day Wednesdays every week. I'd also like to see the superintendent's salary cut.

Kathy Theis-Getto 9 years, 1 month ago

Student and Instructional support is mainly teacher salaries. If you want to cut substantial costs it would have to be primarily teaching staff.

Hail - please explain the extra layers you speak of.

hail2oldku 9 years, 1 month ago

Marion (Marion Lynn) says:

Taxes in this state are out of control and it is time for TABOR which would include personal property tax.

My retired, disabled mother just received a tax bill which indicated a 50% valuation increase on her house!

No way and no way that such an increase can be justified!

The house would not bring the original evaluation in this market!

Where does your mother live Marion? I would imagine it would be fairly easy to protest that evaluation unless her property has somehow been reclassified.

hail2oldku 9 years, 1 month ago

Hawk I think you and I are on the same side of this issue as far as VOTING NO.

I'm far more concerned however with the number of people, some students others who are not, who like live and work in Lawrence, even sending their kids to Lawrence schools, yet they are driving around town with out of state plates. Taking that one step further, our former Superintendent at the school district was one of those people that took our paycheck but never bothered to pay taxes here in the state.

deskboy04 9 years, 1 month ago

I would sure like to go to Orlando at the end of the month.

pbfh88 9 years, 1 month ago

Good grief. Here we go again. The teachers in our community believe their salaries need to be increased once again. $48,348 sounds like pretty good salary compared to a lot of the jobs in this community. And this is for 9 MONTHS!!! What about the other district employees -- the secretaries, the janitors, etc.? When do they get a decent raise? Our taxes continue to increase, then we are required to pay textbook rental fees (didn't we already purchase the textbooks with our tax dollars?); we are charged extra for band, art, technology classes, etc. I agree that teachers need to be paid a good salary, but they never seem to think it's good enough. Of course the Kansas City area pays better -- they're bigger communities!

otto 9 years, 1 month ago

The layer of fat can be trimmed starting at the service center. There is apparently plenty of employees that their salaries should go to teachers. They have plenty of time to watch TV, read books etc... while getting paid. They could start by doing the cleaning etcc. rather than paying others to do this as well.

Julie Jacob 9 years, 1 month ago

Ok so I looked at the budget and have these questions.

Looking at Instruction expeses page 5 Why did the budget for summer school for 07-08 go up 568% from 21725-145100? (let's give them double last yeat and there is 100000 back)

Since when is driver education a school's responsibility?(there is 125250 back in the budget)

Why was there NOTHING budgeted for Text and Student Material when as a parent I clearly pay TEXTBOOK RENTAL FEES?

Adult Education. I hate to be harsh but those that help themselves first get help. The kids have no choice and are mandated by law to be in school. As an adult if you didn't get the education the first time, then find a way to finance it. (there is 440881 back in the budget)

So far that is 666131 back.

Now, tell me what is being spent line by line for the 279800 budgeted for gifts and grants?

Where can I go to see detail of what has been spent in each fund so far this budget year?

gr 9 years, 1 month ago

Valkyrie_of_Reason: "Where is the waste? "

Not quite the itemized listed I requested, but $13 Million for "Other Costs" seems interesting. Another interesting area is Student & Instructional Support. Then, since sports is not broken out, "Instruction" would need to be looked at, too, unless that's part of the City's Park & Rec. Where are the expenses for sports such as busing, trips, etc? Special education taking over a third of general education seems out of line to me, but maybe it's a legal requirement - something to look at.

Any time there is a need for a new tax, there should be opportunity to vote down previous taxes. A replacement instead of additional.

Kathy Gates 9 years, 1 month ago

Maybe I've had too much St. Patrick's Day, but what difference does it make if both spouses work for the school district? For that matter, for any government entity? Are you saying that if one spouse works for the school district, city, KU then the other spouse shouldn't also be able to work? What difference does it make if your spouse works for the same entity you do or for a private business? What does that have to do with the issue at hand?

Richard Heckler 9 years, 1 month ago

Teachers deserve good pay for the time and effort that goes into a teachers work day. It does not matter if one happens to be married to Randy Weseman or a billiionaire rock star.

Their jobs are not a piece of cake considering what is expected. Teachers sometimes spend their own money for teaching tools,keep certified and act as behavior consultants(they would gladly give this up).

Parents expect children to learn the basics of becoming a productive person and think about improving their skills at higher education institutions. Those institutions could be 4 year college,Vocational - Technical level, JOCO or an Art Institute. No matter which one the community expects them to leave public school with the ability to think for themselves and move forward.

So I say stop the city/county projects leading nowhere so taxpayers can afford to put money into education. That is absolutely the most appropriate and productive bang for the tax dollar.

volunteer 9 years, 1 month ago

I support the teachers but I don't support the tax hike. I agree with the two members of the Board who voted against putting this issue on the ballot.

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