Archive for Wednesday, December 26, 2001

Economic outlook for schools still bleak

December 26, 2001

Kansas schools hit in the 1990s by declines in student enrollment could be facing an even bleaker economic future because of a predicted shortfall in state revenue. This includes the Tonganoxie school district.

Kansas Gov. Bill Graves said the state must cut spending by $426 million in fiscal year 2003 to make ends meet. These cuts could slash school funding by an estimated $158 per student.

Tonganoxie school superintendent Richard Erickson says if the district must cut expenses, he hopes it won't lead to crowded classrooms.

"I think that we need to do everything we can to protect educational services for our kids," Erickson said.

Erickson said the district would likely cut costs on transportation, technology and employees. For example:

The school district purchased its own bus fleet and began managing its own transportation system five years ago. Last summer, the district completed payments on the buses, and board members had planned to begin purchasing new buses as the older ones wear out. Erickson said the district could delay the purchases, or purchase used buses instead of new.

The district's technology budget could be cut. Annually, Erickson said, the district currently spends a total of about $50,000 on computer technology in each of the three schools. This could be trimmed to $25,000 or $30,000 per school, he said.

The district may have to look at ways to reorganize the faculty and staff. For instance, Erickson said, Tonganoxie's pull factor was 1.05. In recent years, Tonganoxie's lowest pull factor was tallied at .75 in 1996.

Businesses that seem to make the greatest difference are usually a general merchandise store, grocery stores and car dealerships.

"These are anchor stores in your mix, just like anchor stores in Metcalf South or the mall in Topeka," Darling said.

One of Tonganoxie's anchor stores, B&J Country Mart, is doing well, said Jim Gambrill, owner.

The store doubled its size this year and in January will open a pharmacy.

"Business has been fine," Gambrill said. "But it can always be better."

The store, he said has experienced a 13 percent growth in sales during each of the past four years.

"It keeps climbing and climbing," Gambrill said. "Of course there's more people coming into the area and so you offer more services and it keeps on going."

Kathy Bard, assistant to the city administrator, said that for about the last 10 years, Tonganoxie has levied a 1 percent tax on retail sales. The city relies on this income, Bard said.

"It comes to one-third of the city's general fund budget," she said.

Businesses such as B&J Country Mart are vital to the city's economy, she said.

"If we lost our grocery store, we would probably be in serious trouble because the grocery store is a huge player in sales tax revenue," Bard said.

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