Archive for Saturday, December 20, 2014

Lawrence schools, Douglas County prepare for first mail-ballot election

December 20, 2014

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After Jan. 7, about 53,000 registered voters in Lawrence can expect to find envelopes in their mailboxes from the Lawrence school district.

School officials, who are seeking to recoup about $1.4 million of funding by keeping the local option budget at its current level, hope residents don't mistake the envelopes for junk mail.

Lawrence schools Superintendent Rick Doll

Lawrence schools Superintendent Rick Doll

"I'm always nervous, so I don't consider (the election) to be a shoo-in at all," Superintendent Rick Doll said.

The school district and the Douglas County Clerk's office are preparing for the county's first ever mail-ballot election, which will determine whether the district can maintain its local option budget — a proposition that would not result in a mill levy increase.

"It's critical to our operating," Doll said. "We're not asking for more (money). We just want to continue to do what we're doing."

A local option budget represents funding that is raised by local property taxes for school districts. The size of a district's local option budget can be no larger than 33 percent (the maximum was 31 percent until a year ago) of its general operating fund, which in Lawrence's case is about $72.2 million.

The election over the local option budget stems from a new law the Legislature passed in response to a Kansas Supreme Court ruling. The law changed how state funding for schools is calculated. The biggest blow to Lawrence, Doll explained, is that students enrolled in virtual schools would no longer count toward a district's official enrollment.

That and other factors resulted in an about $1.8 million loss in funding for the Lawrence district.

However, the state then created a path for districts across the state to recoup at least some of those lost funds. It allowed districts, for one year only, to raise their local option budgets from 31 percent to 33 percent by vote of their school boards. In September, the Lawrence school board did just that, effectively recovering $1.4 million without raising the mill levy.

But if a district wants to keep its local option budget at 33 percent beyond year one — in Lawrence's case, retaining that $1.4 million every year — it needs the approval of registered voters living within the district. And it must be done by mail, at least 90 days before or after any other elections on the calendar.

So here Lawrence is, along with Olathe, Shawnee Mission, De Soto and other districts putting the issue up to voters at virtually the same time.

At a cost of $100,000, the Lawrence district will mail the ballots to registered voters Jan. 7. Using a postage-paid envelope that's included, voters must return, not postmark, their ballots to the clerk's office by noon Jan. 27.

Anyone living within the district boundary who is not registered to vote must do so by Jan. 6 to participate.

To get voters ready, Doll and other district officials are doing all they can to spread the word.

Doll expects to make about 40 public appearances, at school site councils and other community groups, to explain the election. The district is preparing to mail voters information on the election days before the ballots are released. And the district's automated phone and email system is at the ready for additional reminders.

Although the issue at hand is only about maintaining the local option budget at its current level, with no tax increase in play (the mill levy would decrease if the election failed, however), officials have cautioned themselves from thinking the election is a gimme.

Doll and district spokesperson Julie Boyle said voter apathy, general anti-tax sentiments, unfamiliarity with mail-in elections and all the distractions that come with the holiday season have kept them on their toes.

Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said mail-in elections have a record of drawing better turnout than elections that force voters to head to the polls.

"It's pretty common in other counties," Shew said. "Across the state, and in other states, mail-ballot elections increase turnout considerably. So we anticipate, what could have been a 14, 15 percent turnout, could easily be a 25, 30 percent turnout."

The $1.4 million at stake, Doll said, is equivalent to 25 teachers' salaries. He said losing that money could result in larger class sizes, a decline in support staff or fewer resources available for acquiring laptops and other kinds of technology.

Comments

David Holroyd 3 years, 4 months ago

Another reason to move from Lawrence. Dr Doll apparently does not understand that a mill levy increase is not necessary because an increase in property valuations produces the same result.

Hmmm? No tax increase but yet Dr Doll talks about less teachers, etc. Of course there is a tax increase to result from the ballot vote.

How many admin positions could be eliminated? Dr Doll does not speak to that.

Amy Varoli Elliott 3 years, 4 months ago

25 full time positions would need to be eliminated, he did about 20 informatative talks last month to answer any questions the public had. Your comment makes its obvisious that you did not read the arrival too being as this is the last paragraph.

The $1.4 million at stake, Doll said, is equivalent to 25 teachers' salaries. He said losing that money could result in larger class sizes, a decline in support staff or fewer resources available for acquiring laptops and other kinds of technology.

Steve Jacob 3 years, 4 months ago

"Amounts to 25 teachers salaries", there is nothing that says they will be eliminated. And this is a tax increase, if the mill levy goes down on a no vote, it's a tax increase. Want to clear things up. I will vote no, but it will not matter. The citizens of Lawrence will fight against every penny the city commission spends but give USD 497 a blank check.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 3 years, 4 months ago

We aren't going to get the money from the state, so, if you care about education, then they have to get the money from somewhere. You can always move to west or south Kansas, where they voted to destroy public education by electing Brownback again. As if "for profit" private schools are actually gong to go there to set up business.

Richard Heckler 3 years, 4 months ago

I will vote yes to support the local option budget. Excellent public education is critical to economic growth and to our children's development whether they move on to college or a Vo-Tech experience.

Brad Greenwood 3 years, 4 months ago

And if you vote no and the mill levy does decrease, you'll save enough in property taxes to maybe go see a movie this year (depending on the size of your house). Heck, you might even be able to take a date... and get popcorn! All at the expense of our kid's education. Enjoy the movie.

David Holroyd 3 years, 4 months ago

There will be a tax increase with a simple increase in valuations.

Can't 1.4 million be cut in the district and still keep the teachers?

How much is the new ampunt of property taxes where Wild Wings is? Each time anew property is built, abated or not, the district gets more money. Do they not consider the new income?

Dr Doll crys a lot!

Brad Greenwood 3 years, 4 months ago

Define "simple increase in valuations". Do we get Oprah to come in, wave her wand and declare, "Your house is worth more, your house is worth more... everyone's house is worth more!"?

David Holroyd 3 years, 4 months ago

Mr greenwood, call me , I am in the phonebook.

You might want to visit with mr. Dettbarn before you do,

Clark Coan 3 years, 4 months ago

"There will be a tax increase with a simple increase in valuations."

You are right on, David. That's the hidden tax increase they don't talk about. The lot for the house in which I live went up 57% this year because they decided to change the way they value lots in my neighborhood. So, total taxes went up 16%.

Mike McNellis 3 years, 4 months ago

What is the decrease in the mill levy should the vote fail? I see the vote is to allow USD497 to use 33% of the general fund vs. 31%. No details on a reduced mill levy in anything I can find online.

I plan to vote yes to help the schools offset the loss of the 1.8M from the state.

David Holroyd 3 years, 4 months ago

Mr Mcnells , where does money for the general fund come from?

call me, I am in the phonebook

Btw, Dr Doll says this this not about money, but from forked tongue speaks of teacher cuts. He says the district wants to keep doing what they are doing, which in my opinion is spend, spend and spend more.

Cut the district mill levy, reduce the budget!

Mike McNellis 3 years, 4 months ago

So what will be the mill levy decrease? Thanks in advance.

David Holroyd 3 years, 4 months ago

Mr coan, you are a bit more astute than the common rustics . You have figured out where the money comes from and goes, the others have not!

David Holroyd 3 years, 4 months ago

Mr mcnellis, the mill levy is decreased when budgets are decreased.

The district needs to eliminate the virtual school, put those students in the regular classroom, and the district gets the state money.

This virtual school is a fad and a myth. The is no virtual building, no virtual bus and no virtual lunch.

If Lawrence wants a virtual school, then the costs need to be built intoo the budget and paid through property taxes.

Call me, I am in the phonebook. When you do, have ready your home valuations for the past five years and the comps used, I.e. addresses compared to your property. Virtual addresses don't work with the scheme the county employees to figure valuations.

Dr Doll does want money, this is about money.

Mike McNellis 3 years, 4 months ago

Thanks for the additional information. The article phrased it to be more of an allocation issue. In my experiences, I have rarely seen excess money returned to the people. More often than not, marginal projects are approved that would be otherwise tabled. I recently returned to Lawrence after multiple work relocations - your experience is appreciated.

Richard Heckler 3 years, 4 months ago

Yes inflate the value of homes as a means to slip by without necessarily voting in a tax increase.

IMO the the value for taxation should always remain what price was paid when the property was purchased. Why? Because market values are truly unpredictable.

Also market values of the past 35 years are directly impacted by the crooked and/or irresponsible actions of elected politicians and their regulatory staff. There are houses in Lawrence that still cannot bring enough market value to cover the mortgages.

When is the last time our county assessed values have been reduced 30%-50% to match recession values? How about that couple that had to shell out $30,000 to get released from a mortgage because the final market value was at least 30 grand short.

There are also homes in Lawrence in which owners walked away because of becoming unemployed and a large dip in market values.

It is at this point in history that I say property value increases and property tax increases have become as regressive as sales tax increases.

None of us know what market value our homes will bring until there is a buyer.

Richard Heckler 3 years, 4 months ago

Thousands of public school teachers throughout Kansas could receive pink slips. Think what impact that would have on USD 497 students,

Thousands of public school teachers throughout Kansas could receive pink slips. Think what impact that would have on local economies.

Thousands of public school teachers throughout Kansas could receive pink slips. Think what impact that would have on the real estate industry and home sales.

Thousands of public school teachers throughout Kansas could receive pink slips. Think what impact that would have on property values after the economy goes down the tubes one more time at the direction of the GOP one more time.

Thousands of public school teachers throughout Kansas could receive pink slips. Think what impact that would have on home loan bankruptcy activity.

Thousands of public school teachers throughout Kansas could receive pink slips. Think what impact that would have on car sales.

Thousands of public school teachers throughout Kansas could receive pink slips. Think what impact that would have on local sales taxes.

Thousands of public school teachers throughout Kansas could receive pink slips. Think what impact that would have on local carpenters,plumbers,painters,landscape maintenance crews

Thousands of public school teachers throughout Kansas could receive pink slips. Think what impact that would have on the overall quality of life in the state of Kansas thanks to the GOP one more time.

Taxpayer should want more tax dollars spent on public education because it brings our tax dollars home….. which are spent in many many many local economies.

Sarah Bloxsom 3 years, 4 months ago

Using a postage-paid envelope that's included, voters must return, not postmark, their ballots to the clerk's office by none Jan. 27.

When is this?? Is it noon? That is quite a turn around time! Hope it goes off well. As a proud voter I always appreciate being given an opportunity to cast a decision about education in my community. I don't have any excuse when the opportunity is dropped in my mailbox. :) I hope that there is good turnout and that the community benifits from whatever the results may be.

Cille King 3 years, 4 months ago

Yes, the deadline to return the ballot is noon on Jan. 27 - 3 weeks from mail-out to deadline/election day - same as mailed out ballots for other elections.

On the real estate tax statement that we received and just paid; From 2013 and 2014 - State of Kansas tax increased 2.1%, Douglas County increased 12.7%, City of Lawrence increased 7.2%, but the USD 497 decreased a total of 2.7% (3 separate line items).

David Holroyd 3 years, 4 months ago

Ms Bloxsom, I too wondered what "none Jan 27" meant. Am I the only one who gets chastised for poor grammar? Is there a proof reader in the house?

Jan 27 is on a Tuesday. Best not mail the ballot on Mondsy, might not arrive in time.

I hope my ballot does not arrive the same daily as Publisher's clearing house check to me. I will need it for this education want and not need.

Spend more on the "kids" so they can vandalize buildings, rob houses, kill pizza shop owners.

Why can't there be a photo of the superintendent smiling? He looks sad.

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