Archive for Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Questions center on effect of school finance ruling

December 10, 2003

A Shawnee County judge's ruling last week that the state's system for doling out funds to schools is unconstitutional didn't really surprise Tonganoxie school superintendent Richard Erickson.

But, Erickson noted, he would have preferred the Legislature -- not a judge -- make the decision.

"I don't necessarily like to have those decisions settled in court," Erickson said. "I would feel much better if our Legislature could take care of the situation without court orders."

Last week, Shawnee County District Court Judge Terry Bullock gave lawmakers and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius until July 1 to fix the state's school finance system.

This means revamping the way the state distributes more than $2.6 billion in education aid.

The superintendent said he wasn't ready to predict what effect the judge's ruling could have on school districts.

"But certainly it supports what many of us have believed for some time -- that public school funding has been inadequate," he said.

And at Monday night's school board meeting, members briefly discussed Bullock's ruling.

Bob DeHoff said he has talked to state Rep. Ken Wilk, R-Lansing.

"He (Wilk) said, don't expect the Legislature to get in too big of a panic to do anything," DeHoff said.

Rick Lamb commented that he didn't think there were any teeth in the ruling.

DeHoff said it's going to be a contentious situation because in order to accommodate Bullock's ruling, taxes would have to be raised.

"The judge said you're going to increase taxes so much, but who's going to pay for it," DeHoff said.

In an interview, Erickson said he would like to see the state follow recommendations from the Auglenblick and Myers study. In May 2003, the Denver-based firm summarized findings of a study of Kansas school funding, advocating an increase of about $800 in the base per-pupil rate.

"I support the Auglenblick and Myers study that KASB (Kansas Association of School Boards) is promoting right now," Erickson said.

Currently, the state's base per-pupil funding is set at $3,863. The Auglenblick and Myers recommendation was to increase that to $4,650, Erickson said.

When other factors are weighed into school districts' funding formulas, the per-pupil funding increases. For instance, when Tonganoxie's low-enrollment numbers, transportation figures, at-risk programs and other weightings are added in, the district receives $4,793 per pupil, which is higher than the state's $3,863 base per pupil rate.

Currently, the district operates on an $11 million budget, more than is brought in from state aid.

To bolster budgets, school districts can implement a local option budget, which is a locally generated tax. During the 2002-2003 school year, Tonganoxie's LOB added $1.6 million to the budget. This year, Erickson projected, the LOB would generate $1.8 million.

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