In a scientific poll conducted across Kansas last week, 55 percent of the respondents indicated they would be unwilling to pay higher property taxes even if the additional tax revenue went directly to local schools.
The question in the SurveyUSA poll, which was sponsored by the KWCH television station in Wichita, was posed in connection with Gov. Sam Brownback’s new school finance plan, but it may have some relevance for the Lawrence school district and its working group that is considering the consolidation of local elementary schools.
Following several months of meetings and nearing a deadline at the end of January to present a plan, the members of the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group have yet to reach consensus on any plan that would reduce the number of elementary schools in the district. After their most recent meeting Monday night, the one thing they were able to agree on was that the district must pursue a bond issue for elementary schools. Even if no funds are needed to build a new school, or schools, to facilitate consolidation, they concluded, a bond issue is needed to upgrade existing buildings.
It seems that, somewhere, this working group has gotten off the track. The charge of this group was to come up with a plan to consolidate elementary schools, period. The possibility of a bond issue to fund construction of a new school or two was dangled as a carrot to help their deliberations, but the odds of such a bond issue receiving a positive vote from taxpayers has always been in doubt.
Providing an excellent education for elementary school students in the district always is the top priority, but a primary goal of looking at consolidation was to bring about efficiencies that would save the district money in the long run. That goal was driven by declining state funding in the last several years, but it will be no less important to local taxpayers if the governor gains approval for a plan that will shift more responsibility for funding local schools onto local property tax levies.
The plan now being floated at the state level would eliminate all limits on local property tax levies to support local schools, but that doesn’t mean taxpayers in Lawrence or anywhere else should be expected to support — or will approve — large local school tax increases on top of the continuing state property taxes levied for schools.
If the Lawrence district is going to float a bond issue for elementary schools, it should be for the purpose of creating efficiencies that will produce long-term savings for the district.
Members of the elementary working group, as well as the school board, need to refocus their efforts on that goal.