Property taxes on the rise around Kansas
Topeka Patrons of most Kansas school districts will see property taxes rise this year amid an ongoing legal battle over whether public schools are underfunded, preliminary state data shows.
The increases, which are expected to average 1.8 mills, come one year after an influx of court-ordered school aid led to a reduction for most homeowners, The Topeka Capital-Journal reports. Late year, the average drop in property taxes among 286 school districts was 2 mills.
Some superintendents say a controversial change in the state's financing of K-12 education is the reason for the hike. For school leaders in western Kansas, the oil and gas industry gets part of the blame.
"The state giveth and the state taketh away," said Steve Pegram, superintendent of the Santa Fe Trail school district, where patrons are expected to see property taxes climb 3.2 mills this year.
Santa Fe Trail, in Osage County, lost more than $60,000 in state aid from its annual budget when the Legislature rolled back this amount late in the fiscal year, Pegram said. The district's reserves and local property taxes made up for the change, he said.
Adrian Howie, superintendent of the Hugoton school district in southwest Kansas, said his district is suffering from a sustained drop in the value of oil and gas properties. Hugoton's property tax rate has increased nearly 24 mills in seven years, he said, primarily because oil and gas properties make up 80 percent of the district's local tax base.
"That becomes the hard part, as a superintendent, to budget," Howie said.
On Monday, a panel of state leaders will consider requests from Hugoton and two dozen other districts that argue they are facing extraordinary situations that warrant a boost in dollars. The request comes even as the state faces a budget deficit of more than $100 million and an ongoing court battle over school funding. The Kansas Supreme Court heard oral arguments Friday in the case.
Steve Karlin, superintendent of the Garden City school district, where property taxes are poised to increase nearly 4 mills this year, blamed lawmakers scrapping the two-decades-old funding system last spring. The plan is to design a new funding system.
Had the Legislature retained Kansas' previous school finance system, he said, "we would have more dollars available to educate our kids, and we would not have had a mill levy increase at all."
Rep. Ron Ryckman Jr., head of the House's budget panel, said Kansans should ask questions of their local school boards to understand whether tax increases are justified.
"We can't control that," said Ryckman, an Olathe Republican. "We allocate money to a school board, and they decide how much goes to administration, how much goes to the teacher, how much goes to whatever."