Block grant bill will reduce local school funding

Click Here to view the chart.

? All six local districts will feel the pinch.

Numbers provided by the Kansas State Depart?ment of Education last week indicate the so-called ?block grant bill? will have a negative impact on the educational process at each of the six school districts in the Free Press coverage area over the next two years.

Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law last week Senate Bill 7, which repealed the current school finance formula and replaced it with the so-called block-grant system for two years while the formula is being rewritten.

Brownback and his allies have said the current school finance system was too complicated, didn?t produce adequate student outcomes and pitted school districts against each other for funding.

Ron Traxson, superintendent of USD 398-Peabody Burns offered a different perspective. His district will see a cut in classroom funding of $48,643 this year yet, with only minimal recovery over the next two school years.

?This block grant is not about helping schools with a new formula, it?s about cutting school funding to meet the state?s shrinking budget,? Traxson said.

Political response

Supporters of the bill have said accusations about reduced funding for education have been exaggerated.

In his most recent newsletter to constituents, Rep. John Barker, whose district includes northern Marion County, stated: ?Our schools are receiving more funding this year than last, and the credible proposals currently on the table have schools receiving even more funding for the near future.?

That may be true if funding for KPERS, the state?s retirement system for public employees, is added to the equation. But KPERS funding is an in-and-out budget item for school districts; exclude that money and it becomes clear that funding for classroom learning is being cut.

Additional factors

The funding chart at right actually undersells the impact of the bill on some of the local districts because the numbers for local option budget aid are based on the assumption that every district is, or will be, at the maximum level of 33 percent.

Goessel is one of several local districts that hasn?t yet increased the LOB to 33 percent, but plans to attempt it this spring through a mail ballot vote for district patrons.

?The jump (in revenue indicated on the funding chart) comes with the assumption that our taxpayers will approve going to 33,? said Superintendent John Fast. ?But we don?t know for sure that they will. If they don?t approve it, that puts our losses at $35,000.?

Bill Seidl, superintendent at USD 419-Canton-Galva, said his district is facing a similar situation and has had a community meeting to to explain the situation to constituents.

?We?re going to lose money as we go through,? Seidl said.

The primary reason for the loss is that fund-weighting for new facilities will end for the 2016-17 school year. The result will be that the district?s funding reduction will roughly double to $123,137.

The district plans a mail-in ballot vote to increase LOB support to 33 percent June 23.

?We?re hoping it passes?it needs to pass, because if it doesn?t we?re going to lose another $60,000, roughly,? Seidl said.

Lee Leiker, superintendent of USD 408-Marion, said he has chosen not to pursue increasing the LOB levy because he says it would place an unfair obligation on local taxpayers because the state will not increase LOB aid.

?If we went up to 33 percent, our taxpayers would have all of that burden because we?d get no state aid,? he said. ?For that reason I?m not interested in increasing our LOB.?

Leiker said the bill actually penalizes districts like USD 408 that have budgeted operations conservatively enough to avoid the need for an LOB increase.

?That?s another flaw of the block grant, because its locked in,? he said.

Frozen enrollment

Another subtle component of the block-grant measure is that it freezes a district?s enrollment numbers through the two-year period.

For schools with a declining enrollment, the freeze is helpful because their basic aid for pupils won?t decrease. But a district that is growing will be penalized, according to Fast.

?For the last five years, Goessel has been increasing by very small numbers?four to six students per year,? he said. ?We are anticipating a six-student increase next year.?

That computes to a lost revenue increase of more than $23,000 because of the freeze.

Leiker faces a similar situation at Marion.

?The unfortunate thing for us is that I think we?re at our bottom,? he said, referring to the district?s enrollment trend. ?We?re turning the corner and our enrollment is going to increase. So that?s another hindrance for us because we?re not going to get to see that increase (financially).?

Preemptive increase

At USD 410-Hillsboro, patrons approved an LOB increase last June with the promise the state would increase state aid to the district resulting in lower property taxes.

According to Superinten?dent Steve Noble, the USD 410 mill levy was reduced 2.4 mills for 2014-15 as a result of the increase in state aid. The block grant reduces state aid this year by $101,000.

The district will be asking patrons to keep the 33 percent level in place when it initiates a mail-in ballot election April 28?this time with no LOB aid to offset the higher taxing level.

?This state aid will need to be made up by local taxpayers just so the district can stay at even funding levels in 2015-16,? Noble said. ?Meanwhile, operating costs continue to increase 2 to 3 percent per year with no increase in funding. The net result?more cuts.?

Leiker and other superintendents are concerned what the new funding formula might look like.

?My fear is that it will not have the weightings in it?it won?t have the necessary elements to help our size of school in Marion County,? he said.

?Weighting? takes into account such factors as transportation, at-risk students and vocational programs.

?Those are important for our students and for our schools,? Leiker said. ?I worry that those aren?t going to be there. It?s obvious this is an action by the Legisla?ture to cut school funding. That?s a concern for me.?

Ultimate goal

More than one superintendent expressed the opinion that the block-grant bill has a more ominous goal than off-setting a state budget deficit.

?It is my belief that the majority of legislators in Topeka are trying to dismantle public education and support charter schools, privates schools, home schools and virtual schools,? Leiker said.

?Public education in our communities is a corner post for our communities,? he added. ?If it?s dismantled or undermined to the point it can?t be successful, it?s going to have a major impact as far as the state?s economy, population, well-being and everything else.?