Superintendent aims to raise money for schools with lower property taxes

SteveNoble2011-2The school funding bill passed by the Kansas Legis?lature earlier this month failed to provide much of an increase for K-12 classrooms, but it did provide for property-tax relief at the local level.
?There?s nothing wrong with what the Legislature did with the effort to equalize (funding among districts),? said USD 410 Super?intendent Steve Noble. ?There?s just no new money (for classrooms).?
Now, Noble is proposing a plan that will use the new law to enhance the overall financial impact for the district?while still enabling patrons to see a property-tax decrease.
Increasing the impact

At face value, the new law calls for a $14 increase in basic state aid per pupil ?from $3,838 to $3,852. Figur?ing in the bill?s funding reductions for part-time at-risk students and students who do not meet the state standard on state-assessment scores, USD 410 would see a total bump for classrooms of $103 in a $3.5 million budget.
?That wouldn?t even cover the cost of providing coffee for our teachers?if we chose to do that,? Noble joked.
But Noble is positive about the potential impact on patron property-taxes.

Currently, the new bill would reduce the total local load by $156,816 by shifting revenue from rich districts to poorer districts.
That could mean a decrease of 4.02 mills for the local option budget, which is the amount of tax revenue property owners within the school district are paying to help fund its schools.
?That (money) doesn?t come to the school?it goes to everyone who owns property to reduce our personal property taxes,? he said.
Noble said the move was overdue.
?I?ve been arguing for years now that we?re a poor district, property-wise, and that we need state aid so we can get property tax relief to our patrons,? he said. ?The state did that, and I?m thankful for it.?
Noble estimated the financial impact for classrooms via the LOB to be an additional $11,207, once the $145,609 in tax-relief is deducted from the state?s total contribution of $156,816.
Noble said the plan could result in an increase of $89,650 from state coffers for the district?s capital outlay budget, which is restricted to facilities and equipment.

The district has adopted a list of eight facility-related projects as part of its board goals. Noble said the $89,650 would be sufficient to perhaps cover one of them.
New provision

Key to the plan is a change in the funding law that enables a school district to increase its LOB taxing authority.
An LOB is based on a percentage of a school district general fund, which is money used for operations and classrooms.

Currently, USD 410 has its LOB taxing authority set at 30 percent of the general fund?which is the maximum amount allowed without voter approval.

With voter approval, the cap is 31 percent.
Under the new law, the Legislature has raised the cap to 33. Now, once voters approve a 31 percent LOB, the district has the authority?on its own?to raise the percentage to 33.
Noble said raising the LOB cap to 33 percent would increase the additional amount of money the district could use in classrooms from $11,207 to $159,897.
?That?s real money,? he added. ?That helps us pay salaries and people and for the kids. It helps us pay for curriculum, fuel for the buses, lights, cleaning the buildings.?
The plan

Noble presented his plan to the school board Monday night. It was approved by a 7-0 vote.
The district will now ask the county to call for a special election June 17 for patrons of USD 410 on the following question: ?Shall USD 410 adopt a 31 percent local option budget??
If voters approve the increase to 31 percent, the board can then raise the percentage to 33.
Prior to the election, Noble said he knows he will need to cut through the confusion that surrounds school funding to make a clear case for the increase.
?We?re going to have community conversations about this, I?m going to be at senior citizens halls?I?m going to be out and about,? Noble said. ?My message will be: We really need authority to go to 31 percent?I?m not going to sugarcoat that?then we?re going to try to get to 33 percent.
?Inactivity on this issue, now that we have authority to go to 33 percent, does a disservice to our kids.?
Win-win move

Noble said getting to 33 percent would be a win-win for the district.
?First of all, we?ll get more operating money for our schools?that?s vitally important because you?ve seen the cuts,? he said.
?Another win is we get 46 cents on every dollar (of LOB money) coming from the state from outside sources of revenue. We?re capturing state money that?s out there, generated by other places that have a lot of revenue, and we?re bringing it to Hillsboro.
?We want some of that state aid coming back to our kids and our schools.?
Noble said the district?s financial investment in the plan is essentially $1,600, the cost of the special election.
?We?re investing $1,600 in a special election with the opportunity to gain $159,000 for our schools?and not increase property taxes on people. We might even lower it?I hope.?
The latter sentiment is based on some taxation factors the district cannot control, such as the county?s valuation of personal property and the number of late and delinquent taxpayers.
Noble said variations in those factors could affect the financial impact by as much as a mill, which is $33,000 for USD 410.
Cuts on horizon

Noble said patrons need to considered the plan in the context of additional budget cuts beyond those already approved.
At Monday?s meeting, the board approved a budget reduction package of around $400,000; another $400,000 could be cut from the budget next year.
Noble said if this plan is fully implemented, and the district sees the additional revenue he has projected, patrons shouldn?t expect to see any new initiatives.
?We?re just not going to stop doing as many things as we were doing,? he said. ?That?s really what I?m asking the public help us do.?

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