Trust us.
That’s what school officials are asking voters to do in this mail-in election. The ballot question asks voters to give school board members the authority to raise taxes above what they already can. State statute limits the amount of revenue districts can raise via local taxes, or the local option budget (LOB), and this election would give the board additional ability to raise local taxes.
Registered voters should have received ballots this week. They must be returned to the election office no later than Jan. 27.
We can understand why school officials are interested in increasing local revenues. Unlike other sources of school funding, money obtained through the LOB is very flexible. Districts can spend that money as they see fit. That may mean adding teachers and staff, or it could mean adding football coaches.
Our district says an increase in local budget authority would mean more funding funneled to teachers and to keeping classroom sizes low. USD 231 officials also say they would lower other tax revenue streams to maintain the current tax rate.
It isn’t that we don’t trust them, but we’re not completely sold on this LOB increase.
This board seems trustworthy. To their credit, the board did lower school taxes this year.
But, a majority of the current seven-member board of education will be up for re-election in April. There’s no guarantee that the majority of the next board will show as much fiscal restraint as the current body.
If passed, the taxing authority is continuous and permanent. So it’s not just the most immediate board a voter has to consider, but all future USD 231 boards of education.
Until very recently, the administration wasn’t as secure as we would like. USD 231’s top school official, Pam Stranathan, was serving as superintendent in the interim. Board members voted to award Stranathan a more permanent contract on Jan. 12. The board agreed to keep Stranathan in the top role until at least 2017, but even that decision was contentious. In a board meeting one month ago, a divided board decided against posting a job opening for USD 231 superintendent.
There’s also a great uncertainty about the future of state aid to schools. A three-judge panel determined that school funding isn’t adequate. However, the panel stopped short of issuing an order to increase funding.
As things currently sit, it appears that legislators will re-work the existing school finance formula this year or next. No one has any idea what that may mean for public school funding.
The whole LOB election seems risky and ill-timed. However, we should note every Johnson County school district, with the exception of Spring Hill, is making a similar request of their patrons. Spring Hill is likely to place the same thing before voters sometime this year.
Do you trust the school board and the administration today, and will you trust them tomorrow?
Mark your ballot accordingly.