Guv?s budget could force $500,000 in cuts at USD 410

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Gov. Sam Brownback?s budget plan for K-12 education would leave Unified School District 410 facing a $75,000 shortfall for the current school year and the need to cut around $500,000 from the budget for 2011-12.

That?s the assessment of Superintendent Steve Noble after hearing the governor?s plan last week to reduce base state aid per pupil from $4,102 to $3,780 for 2011-12 essentially to offset the loss of federal stimulus funding after this school year.

Brownback said his budget would actually increase state funding for K-12 education by $129 million from a year ago.

Noble said the governor?s claim is technically correct, but at the same time misleading.

?I wish he wouldn?t have used the political tactics to sugarcoat the brutal reality,? Noble said. ?He didn?t come out and say, ?Folks, we are going to cut money to classrooms.? He didn?t say that, but that?s reality.

?We?re going to put teachers out of work, we?re going to put aides out of work, we?re going to put some administrators potentially out of work, we?ll put some programs on the shelf.?

Adjustment for this year

If the governor?s recommendation is adopted by the Legisla?ture, the district?s first challenge will be to cover the $75,000 shortfall for the current school year.

Noble said the board has two options: quit spending money or cover the shortfall with a transfer from the district?s unencumbered cash reserves.

?I don?t know that we can come up with enough to save $75,000 if we just don?t spend any more, because most of our spending is required?such as salaries or utilities or health insurance.

?Those kind of things are already committed, but there may be some things we?re just going to have to say no to.?

Noble said USD 410 is fortunate to have sufficient cash reserves to cover the immediate loss of revenue. But not every school district does.

?There are schools right now with no unencumbered cash balances,? he said. ?If I say I?m going to use $75,000 to get through the year, where are they going to turn to get the money if they don?t have any??

Looking to 2011-12

The actual loss of revenue projected for 2011-12 under Brownback?s plan is about $371,000 for USD 410, Noble said. But by the time projected cost increases are included for such things as materials, equipment, supplies, fuel and health insurance, the required reductions will approach $500,000.

If there?s a silver lining to the challenge, it?s that the district has a head start on identifying potential items to cut.

?We identified a hugh list of cuts a year ago,? he said. ?We went through an excruciating process and identified nearly $1 million in cuts.?

?Some of these (items on the list) are completely drastic and would change the way education looks, or its effectiveness, in USD 410,? he added. ?It?s nothing we would likely entertain, but we put everything on the table that we aren?t required to do by law.?

For example, he said, schools are not required to have sports programs, but the impact of cutting sports likely would be self-defeating.

?We?d lose all of our students and we?d have a rampage with pitch forks and torches at the superintendent?s house,? he said.

Noble said he plans to call together the committee that came up with the list of cuts a year ago and ask the members to identify the ones that would least damage the educational experience for students.

The committee would include representatives from the board of education, the community, the adminstration and teachers. The committee will make a recommendation to the board of education.

With this being the third consecutive year for budget reductions, Noble the question is not if the cuts will hurt students? education, but how badly.

?We made cuts furthest away from hurting kids as much as we possibly can (last year), and each year when we?re asked to cut more, there?s no doubt in my mind there are going to be things that are going to negatively impact kids?and already have.?

Best budget deal

Noble said he doesn?t expect the Legislature to approve a better deal for education than the one coming from the governor.

?Typically, the governor?s first budget for education is generally the best one we see all session,? he said. ?But we?ve had Democratic leadership for quite some time.?

In the aftermath of the November elections, Noble said he wouldn?t be surprised to see legislative initiatives to reduce base state aid per pupil even further as a wy to bolster the state?s bottom line.

?I think the governor?s proposal will be the best budget education sees, because now, with a more conservative legislative branch, they have the green light to cut away?and they know the governor likely will sign it.

?In the past, there was always the threat of a veto by the governor, and unless they could get a two-thirds majority out of the Senate the House, they couldn?t override it.

?In my political opinion, they don?t have the threat of the veto anymore.?

Noble said the biggest threat for K-12 education in Marion is not so much political differences, but geographical ones.

?For us, it?s an urban versus rural issue,? he said. ?That is what we have to tell our taxpayers. There will be people in Johnson County, suburban Wichita and other wealthier districts that will say, ?Take the cap off the (local option budget) and let us raise local property taxes as much as we want to fund education at the levels we feel are necessary.?

?Richer, wealthier districts can do that with a very, very small (property) tax increase to their patrons,? he added. ?We cannot keep up with the world-class education our kids deserve in Marion County playing by those rules.

?We must have state support for public education in Marion County.?

Non-affected areas

The governor?s proposed budget reduction will negatively affect the district?s operational fund, from which classroom and day-to-day operating expenses are paid. But it will not affect the district?s plan to remodel the former Midway Motors facility into a district office and transportation center.

Brick-and-mortar projects are funded from the district?s capital outlay fund, which is funded solely by local property taxes.

?The district office remodel is a capital outlay project, so it won?t be affected,? Noble said.

In a similar vein, the district bond and interest fund, which pays for the district?s recent building additions approved by district patrons, receives revenue from a combination of local taxes and state funding.

Brownback?s budget proposal includes funding for the state?s portion of bond and interest.

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