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Archive for Monday, July 22, 2013

Lawrence school board to look at budget with few details

July 22, 2013

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The Lawrence school board is expected to vote Monday to publish a draft budget for the upcoming school year, but district officials won't release details about that budget until the board meets at 7 p.m.

And even then, district officials said, the only details will be those included in a state-prescribed form that shows the total amount to be spent in various funds, the total amount of taxes to be levied, and the estimated mill levy needed to generate those taxes.

Further details about how the district intends to spend that money will come later, as the board prepares for a public hearing on the proposed budget Aug. 12.

That practice represents a stark contrast from other local governments such as Douglas County, where officials made available a thick, three-ring binder with hundreds of pages detailing the county's draft budget a full week before county commissioners voted to publish their notice in advance of next month's public hearing.

Likewise, the city of Lawrence posted details of its draft budget on its website for the public to examine before city commissioners took similar action.

But officials note that school district budgets are very different from city and county budgets, largely because funding amounts are predetermined by formulas set out in state law. And how school districts convey that information to their taxpayers is a matter of local policy.

“It's all up to the local board,” Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis said. “There are all kinds of different ways that's done.”

A few things about the Lawrence district's budget have already been made public through earlier actions and discussions. Among them:

Tax base: According to Douglas County appraisal figures, the total assessed valuation of the district is estimated at about $987.7 million, roughly a 1.1 percent increase over last year. The county will certify final assessed valuations in November.

Salary costs: The school board earlier approved a new contract with teachers that provides an average 3 percent pay raise, plus an increase in the cost of health insurance and other benefits. The board also approved similar enhancements for administrators and classified staff. Those are expected to cost about $2.8 million. The district plans to pay for that in part by spending down cash reserves in various funds.

General state aid: The Lawrence district will probably receive about $66.2 million in base state aid from the state, which makes up the district's “general operating fund.” The amount is determined by taking the district's “weighted” enrollment — accounting low-income student student population, non-English speaking students and other factors — and multiplying that by $3,838, the amount authorized by the Kansas Legislature this year.

According to state officials, Lawrence's weighted enrollment for 2012-2013 was 17,067.1 students. District officials have said they expect that to grow by about 190 students next year.

Local Option Budget: The state allows local districts to levy an additional amount, up to 31 percent of the general fund budget. But the amount is determined by a different formula, and some of the LOB is subsidized with state “equalization” aid. The Lawrence district uses the full 31 percent authority. Under the state formula that would be about $24 million.

Capital outlay: The state allows local districts to levy up to 8 mills of tax for capital outlay, which pays for major expenses not covered in the general operating budget and are not funded with bond proceeds. Lawrence uses the full 8-mill authority, or $184 in tax on a $200,000 house. That is expected to generate about $7.9 million.

Bond and interest: District officials have promised there will be no increase in taxes for bond and interest payments as a result of the $92.5 million bond issue approved by voters in April.

In other business, the board will vote on a resolution authorizing the sale of up to $40 million of the $92.5 million in bonds approved in April. The district's financial advisers plan to accept bids for interest rates on those bonds Monday morning and will announce the low bid at the 7 p.m. meeting.

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