Many local taxpayers were pleasantly surprised by last week’s news that the Lawrence school district would propose a budget that would actually lower their property taxes.
A decline of nearly 1.6 mills in the district’s tax levy is good news for taxpayers, who are facing increases in both city and county property taxes. Hopefully, it is not seriously bad news for the school district, which might have levied higher taxes if they hadn’t been constrained by state law.
The district’s budget, which will be considered by the Lawrence school board tonight, is largely driven by state formulas based on enrollment, student poverty levels and district wealth. Although the Lawrence district benefited from an increase of $14 per student in state aid, it also was hurt by other changes.
For instance, virtual students no longer are counted among the district’s total enrollment when it calculates its local option budget (LOB) authority. So even though the Lawrence district raised its LOB levy from 31 percent to 33 percent of its general fund total, that levy actually will raise less money than it did last year.
The district has maxed out its ability under state law to levy taxes, according to Superintendent Rick Doll, while state funding has fallen back to about 1999 levels.
Presumably the district has been able to meet its commitment to finance a $92.5 million bond issue approved in April 2013 without adding to the local tax burden, but there aren’t many things that don’t cost more today than they did in 1999. Next year’s budget, for instance, includes an average pay raise of 2 percent for district personnel, which is hardly extravagant.
With both the city and county seeking property tax increases to fund their 2015 budgets, most taxpayers will welcome the school district’s proposed tax decrease. It’s important to keep in mind, however, the toll that state funding changes are taking on the ability of the Lawrence district and other districts across the state to maintain high quality staff and educational services.