December 19, 2014

Governor’s task force will examine school finance

Spring Hill Middle School students work in a classroom. A new task force created by Gov. Sam Brownback will study ways to put a higher percentage of funding into the classroom. Submitted photo courtesy of Christine Splichal

Danedri Thompson
dthompson@gardnernews.com
There’s a new task force in Kansas, and its goal is to get more funding into public school classrooms.
Gov. Sam Brownback announced the formation of his School Efficiency Task Force last week.
More than half of the state’s budget is used to fund public schools, and a  state statute, KS 72-64c01 asks that 65 percent of the money the state provides to school districts be spent in the classroom or for instruction. According to a press release from the Brownback Administration, only 15 schools of Kansas’ approximately 300 adhere to the policy goal. Among those that do are USD 368 in Paola, USD 405 in Lyons, and USD 474 in Great Bend.
The Spring Hill School District falls just short of the guideline. Approximately 63 percent of district funding is used for instruction and staff and student support, according to Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE).
USD 230 Superintendent Bart Goering said the percentage is pushed down in growing districts that need to build new schools. USD 230 voters approved a $39 million bond issue in 2011 and construction of a new elementary school and expansion and upgrades to existing school buildings are underway.
“As a school district, we are always trying to maximize the amount of funding going into the classrooms,” Goering said. “…In addition, some classroom expenses and technology are not included in the instruction budget line item such as computers, iPads, software, books, instructional equipment, etc., because they are paid out of a bond issue or capital outlay fund.”
Since 2008, USD 230 officials have inched higher in the percentage of funds it uses in the classroom.The district used approximately 55 percent of its budget on instruction and support in 2008. The following year, the percentage increased to 55 percent. Last year, USD 230 used 63 percent.
A smaller percentage of state-provided funds lands in classrooms in USD 231. According to the KSDE website, approximately 54 percent of district funding is used for instruction and student and staff support. USD 231 responded to an inquiry from the Gardner News with a link to the district website. Its information conflicts with information from the state.
According to KSDE, USD 231’s percentage of funds used for classroom expenditures has fluctuated over the past few years. In 2008, the district utilized 52 percent of its funds for instruction and staff and student support. In 2009 and 2010, the percentage increased to 55 percent. Last year, 54 percent of expenditures went to the classroom.
The goal of the Governor’s School Efficiency Task Force is to find efficiencies to push those percentages even higher.
“It is critically important for state policy makers to be confident that state resources for education are spent as efficiently and effectively as possible,” Brownback said in a press release. “We must ensure that classroom teachers have the resources they need to educate effectively. We need more money in the classroom and less in administration and overhead costs.”
Goering said the Spring Hill School District is glad the task force will take a look at district efficiencies.
“In a state like Kansas where there are more than 280 school districts, opportunities exist to increase efficiency and ensure that our students benefit and achieve at the highest levels possible,” Goering said.
Ken Willard of Hutchinson will chair the task force. He retired from a 38-year career in the insurance industry and has served on the state board of education since 2003.
Other members of the task force include:
• Jim Churchman of Overland Park, who has 27 years of experience in business management;
• DeAnn Hill of Baxter Springs, a CPA with 32 years of experience in public accounting;
• Theresa Dasenbrock of Garden City, a CPA with 28 years of experience in public accounting;
• Thomas D. Thomas of Emporia, a CPA with 44 years of experience in public accounting;
• James Dunning, Jr. of Wichita, a CPA with 31 years of experience in public accounting;
• Stephen Iliff of Topeka, a CPA with 31 years of experience in public accounting;
• Dave Jackson of Topeka, a business owner, a former USD 345 Seaman School District school board member and former state legislator;
• Tim Witsman, a Mid-Continent Research and Education and Learning board member with 32 years of experience in public and private sector business management; and
• Steve Anderson of Topeka, a CPA and the state budget director.
Critics note no educators have been tapped to serve on the task force.

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