Archive for Wednesday, March 30, 2005

School finance a hot topic at forum

March 30, 2005

One of the hottest topics these days in the Legislature is school finance.

It was an early subject during Saturday's legislator coffee at the VFW's post home in Tonganoxie.

Sen. Roger Pine, R-Lawrence, and Rep. Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing, discussed the Legislature's current $127 million education plan that's making its way through the statehouse. Leavenworth County Commissioners Don Navinsky and Dean Oroke, along with Sheriff Dave Zoellner also were involved in the forum.

On Friday, the education plan, which would increase education funds by $127 million annually, passed in the senate by a 23-12 vote. The house now will vote on the compromise bill.

Pine said Friday's business went into the late evening regarding the education bill. He said he still was working to sift through all the paperwork and understand some of the bill's components.

Wilk responded to that.

"We like to keep the senate confused," Wilk said, generating a roar of laughter from those attending.

"Well, I am," Pine said with a chuckle.

Pine, who just took office earlier this year, said he is adjusting to life at the capitol.

"I'm still in the learning process and every week is a new experience for me up there," he said.

Regarding the education bill, Tonganoxie school superintendent Richard Erickson said it was the strongest school finance proposal he's seen in the last 13 years. He wondered though whether it was long term.

"It does extend some funding," Wilk said.

The funding, Wilk said, will come from the state's general fund.

Noting he wasn't "thrilled" with the proposal, Wilk said there was no turning back.

"Where we're at now, we've got to make a yes or no plan," Wilk said. "We no longer can amend it."

In other topics, Wilk said he was excited about health care regulations the state currently is discussing.

"There's a lot of good activity," Wilk said. "In fact, I think that's where the excitement is.

"I don't know whether you'll see a major transformation piece, but there's a lot of components coming through."

One citizen asked about increased property valuations and whether the state regulated those increases.

Wilk said the state has a computer assisted mass appraisal system that helps figure appraisals in all 105 counties based on random property values in each county.

County appraisers then have the final say in those values, Wilk said.

On the county level, Navinsky discussed the continuation of the 1 percent sales tax that will be on the election ballot Tuesday.

"Whether we like it or not everything's changing so we have to stay up with that," Navinsky said. "I probably pay more on Pepsis than my dad did on gasoline."

Navinsky pointed to Tonganoxie's four-lane stretch of U.S. Highway 24-40 as an example of progress that would continue if the sales tax continued.

"Have you lost businesses or gained businesses?" Navinsky asked.

Oroke touched on a few things during his allotted time at the podium, including property valuation, the upcoming Kansas Highway 7 and U.S. Highway 24-40 interchange renovation and road impact fees, along with sewage issues in the Basehor area.

"That's been a problem for some 10 to 15 years, especially south of Basehor," Oroke said.

Oroke, like Pine, took office this year. Oroke, however, has served as county commissioner in the past.

"I've been in office about 75 days and it's been a fast 75 days," Oroke said. "We've got a lot going on in this county and it's all good."

Zoellner also spoke of his first days as sheriff. He spoke about new hires and concerns about losing officers to other agencies.

"They might not be able to match us in pay, but they make up for it in benefits," Zoellner said.

Zoellner also warned citizens of a phone solicitation from the American Deputy Sheriff's Association. Representatives ask for money over the phone for bullet-proof vests for Kansas sheriff's officials. Zoellner said his vests are paid for through his budget.

"Any money they solicit and make, it doesn't stay in the state of Kansas," Zoellner said. "It's a rip-off. I wouldn't give anybody money over the telephone."

Citizens at the legislative coffee said they had received phone calls from the organization.

The attorney general's consumer fraud hotline is (785) 296-2215.

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