Registered voters living within the boundaries of the Peabody-Burns school district can expect to receive some mail sometime this week.
This week, registered voters in USD 398 will receive a mail-ballot election opportunity that will decide whether the district can increase its local option budget by $84,000, which will come to the district annually.
Voters have until noon May 5 to return their ballots to the Marion County clerk?s office. The mailing comes with a postage-paid envelope to return the ballot. Voters can also hand in the ballot at the clerk?s office.
A local option budget is funding that is raised by local property taxes for school districts. The size of a district?s local option budget can be no larger than 33 percent?the maximum was 31 percent until a year ago?of its general operating fund. The idea behind local option budgets is to give districts and voters some local control over school funding.
The election stems from a new law the Legislature passed that changed how state funding for schools is calculated. The state then created a path for districts across the state to recoup at least some of the funds lost at the expense of the new law. It allowed districts to raise their local option budgets from 30 percent to 33 percent by vote of their school boards with patron approval through a mail-in ballot.
Here are a few responses to questions about the election:
? Why does the district want voters to approve a 33 percent local option budget?
We want it to pass so we can maintain our current class sizes and our current programming for students. Decreases in funding over the past number of years have left the district searching for school improvement funds.
? How will a ?yes? or a ?no? vote affect the dollar amount of taxes an individual property owner pays next year compared with this year?
We are at 30 percent and would like the authority to go to 33 percent while our property taxes are dropping. There would be no increase in taxes.
If everything else stayed the same in the school finance formula, a ?no? vote would mean only the difference of an $11.50 on a $100,000 home, or a $5.75 on a $50,000 home, yet it would deny the district the opportunity of $84,000 in the face of more cuts in the future.
? What will the additional $84,00 be used for? What sort of things receive local option budget money, typically?
Local option budget money can be used for all the same things that the general fund can be used for. That?s where we pay salaries and utilities and supplies and everything that we need to operate the school district.
? And if this vote fails, what would be on the chopping block?
Everything would be considered. We would have to look at staffing, both from a teacher standpoint, a classified staff standpoint and administrator standpoint.
We have already made significant cuts this past year that affects our effectiveness as a district, but we would have to look at funding for all of our programs, whether that be our at-risk programs or athletic programs or fine arts programs.
All of those things would be on the table. We would try to make those cuts in a fair way, so that not one area would endure all of the cuts.
? Several other districts are doing what you?re doing, trying to maximize their LOB with mail-in elections. Do school districts in Kansas have any other recourse to get the funding they need? Are they put in a place where they have no choice but to maximize their local option budgets?
There?s no other options from a general fund standpoint because everyone pays 20 mills for a general fund, and that is just given to us in the form of base state aid per pupil. There?s really no other way to generate any dollars for general education purposes other than the general fund, which the state completely controls, and the LOB, which they?ve allowed us to increase a little bit.
? What is your level of confidence heading into this election?
Cautiously optimistic. We are not taking anything for granted, and I?m trying to speak to as many people who will listen. I know other people in the community are trying to help us. The most important thing people can do is return their ballot. Just vote!
by Ron Traxson
Unified School District 398