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There’s plenty of interest in Gov. Sam Brownback’s plans for revamping school finance, and — at least for now — there’s little solid information for how the programs might affect individual school districts.
That’s about to change.
In November, the state plans to run some scenarios after receiving updated revenue information.
“We haven’t run any numbers on any of this,” said Sherriene Jones-Sontag, communications director for the governor. “That’s really going to be a deciding factor: Number one, whether the plan works as we think it will. And number two, how school districts and parents think it will work for their communities.”
• Reduce the amount of property tax collected by the state for redistribution to school districts, envisioning a tax rate that would decrease anywhere from 25 to 50 percent.
• Allow districts to make up the difference using local property taxes, revenues that could be retained within individual districts — instead of being sent to Topeka and then redistributed to other districts — and spent as local school boards see fit.
• Permit counties to charge increased sales taxes for education, with half of the money going into a shared pool to be shared with other participating districts and the other half staying within districts in the county.
The ideas are being discussed in communities across the state, and in Lawrence the possibilities are wide ranging:
• The Lawrence school district could find itself facing a sharp decline in state funding, so much so that making it up with local taxes would be virtually untenable.
• The district could be held relatively harmless by the new system, and give the district a chance to seek additional taxes — enough to generate $1 million a year, maybe more — to boost programs, upgrade schools and accomplish other goals... and possibly do it without boosting the district’s overall tax rate, because of previous bond issues expiring during the next few years.
• The possibilities could fall anywhere in between.
One thing’s for certain: The picture will become a lot more clear once the state outlines how particular changes would affect each and every district’s bottom line.
“I think everybody’s being really cautious,” said Rick Doll, district superintendent, who has listened to Landon Fulmer, Brownback’s policy director, outline possibilities. “Nobody’s done a run yet.”
And that’s next month, Jones-Sontag said. The revenue numbers are likely to be available early in the month, with the finance calculations regarding schools to come later.
The possibility of increasing local taxes is always of interest to many folks, from the people paying the bills to the officials making decisions.
Just which people would get to make such decisions remains a bit unclear, under concepts envisioned by Gov. Brownback.
If the Kansas Legislature opted to reduce overall property taxes coming into the state for redistribution to districts — taking the current 20 mills down to, say 10 or 15 mills — the idea would be that districts could decide to make up the difference, or even go beyond, by agreeing to increase local property taxes and keeping that money at home.
Jones-Sontag said that such a scenario would eliminate “funding silos” that currently limit district spending to such items as transportation money for transportation.
“What the governor wants is a new formula that will give school districts more local control, so parents and teachers can decide what their funding priorities are for their children,” she said.
Those decisions — including the establishment of local tax rates, to replace those for the current “local option budgets” — would be made by local school boards, Jones-Sontag said. Such decisions would not need to go to a public vote.
Doll, however, said that it remained “uncertain” whether such decisions would require voter approval. He recalls Fulmer indicating that districts would be able to “take the lid of the LOB with voter approval.”
Again, the potential changes regarding school finance remain works in progress.
“All of this is preliminary,” Doll said. “He put nothing in writing.”
Monday night’s meeting of the Lawrence school board will include recognition of National Merit Semifinalists:
• From Free State High School: Dawson Conway, Emily Melton, Alan Shi, Sisira Srisutiva, Meixi Wang.
• From Lawrence High School: Alyssa Crider, Bailey Frei, Riley Gentry, Rosemarie O’Brien, Anne Reed-Weston, Leah Towle.
The students are among 157 students in Kansas and about 16,000 nationwide to advance in the competition for 8,300 National Merit scholarships, which together will be worth more than $34 million.
You can read more about them and their plans — and, perhaps most important, see photos of them — in a story written when the National Merit Scholarship Corp. announced the names of semifinalists.
Board members also will honor Ian Robinson, a National Achievement Program Semifinalist from Free State. For an item about Robinson, go to this link.
The regular meeting begins at 7 at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive.