The Lawrence school board on Tuesday unanimously approved its 2017-2018 budget plan, which includes a bump in the district’s property tax rate.
As part of the budget, first reviewed at a board meeting earlier this month, the district’s mill levy is expected to increase by about 3.5 mills. That figure equates to an increase of $80.50 per year for the owner of a home appraised at $200,000.
Shannon Kimball, school board president, said the budget’s structure was designed to allow the district to “take advantage of” the Legislature’s new school finance plan, which went into effect earlier this year and whose constitutionality is still being debated by the Kansas Supreme Court.
“It’s really important to set our goals around being able to give our teachers a raise and being able to add back the positions that we’ve cut over the last three years,” Kimball said. “We can’t do all those things unless we take advantage of the state funding and the local option budget authority that’s available to us.”
Under the new formula, the Lawrence district would receive about $6 million in new state aid. But the formula also led to an increase in the Lawrence district’s local option budget authority, Kathy Johnson, the district’s director of finance, told school board members at a meeting earlier this month. That shakeup, she said, required a 2.3 mill increase in local revenue.
Also factoring into the 3.5 mill increase is the district’s decision to sell only half the bonds approved by voters in May’s $87 million bond election.
Originally, the bond issue for improvements to Lawrence’s secondary schools was estimated to raise taxes by 2.4 mills. Instead, the school board will slash that figure by half, with the remaining bonds to be issued during the 2018-2019 period.
Kimball, in remarks meant to “re-emphasize” the board’s motives behind budget decisions, said the bond payment structure was designed to maintain a stable mill levy.
The district is opting to make a roughly $1.1 million debt payment it isn’t required to pay this year, district leaders and board members said earlier this month, in an effort to reduce interest costs.
Theoretically, that $1.1 million could have been used to lower the mill levy, but board members have said making the full payment instead would help the district avoid large fluctuations in its mill levy.
“And it’s good practice to do that, to try to be responsible in planning that way,” Kimball said Tuesday of efforts to keep the mill levy steady. “So I’m personally very comfortable in approving this budget. I’m glad we had the opportunity to take advantage of some additional funds that our district sorely needed.”
A public budget hearing, meant to allow community members to comment on the budget, took place before the board's vote. No residents offered commentary that evening, however.
In other business, the board:
• Voted to adopt a resolution authorizing the sale of new obligation bonds as part of the district’s upcoming $87 million bond issue for improvements to secondary schools. The vote took place in a special meeting after the budget hearing. Tuesday’s resolution will allow staff to work with the district’s financial advisors in preparing for the sale of $43.5 million — half of the aforementioned total figure — in general obligation bonds.
• Voted to approve 2017-2018 compensation and fringe benefits packages in the amount of $362,324 for administrators and $1,279,661 for classified employees.
• Heard an update from David Cunningham, the district’s chief legal counsel and executive director of human resources, on negotiations between the district and the Lawrence Education Association. Cunningham said a tentative agreement had been reached with the teachers union that would include a roughly 6 percent increase in the salary pool for certified teaching staff. The master agreement must now be ratified by both the school board and the LEA, Cunningham said.
• Held a work session to discuss interview preparation for potential search firms in the district's process of selecting its new superintendent. Brian Jordan, assistant executive director of leadership services for the Kansas Association of School Boards, offered guidance to board members Tuesday about factors to consider in interviewing and hiring a search firm. The school board will interview search firms on Monday, Aug. 28 at 7 p.m. at the district offices, 110 McDonald Drive.