USD 231 officials have spent some time reading through the 116-page court decision on school finance, and it hasn’t changed their desire to see voters approve an increased local option budget authority.
Registered voters in the USD 231 received ballots last week. The one-question mail-in ballot seeks to allow members of the school board to increase the amount of taxes it raises locally, though the court decision could mean an increase in state aid to the district.
Last week, a three-judge panel ruled that funding to Kansas public schools is inadequate. The panel determined that state aid to schools “is not reasonably calculated” to allow students to meet or exceed standards set in a previously-decided Kentucky case.
“This decision did not have a stated order to restore the base state aid per pupil amount,” Jeremy McFadden, Gardner-Edgerton school finance director, said.
Though the panel of judges stopped short of setting a state aid amount, they made clear that current state-aid of $3,852 per pupil is not enough.
Attorneys who litigated the case for Schools for Fair Funding — a group to which USD 231 belongs — estimate that the ruling will require the Kansas Legislature to pump between $548 million and $771 million in additional funding into public schools.
McFadden said Gardner-Edgerton officials will not increase the tax rate if voters approve increased LOB authority. The district will only increase the LOB tax rate if necessary, he said.
“Let’s say base-state-aid-per-pupil goes up in the state of Kansas. In all likelihood, we would sit down, look at our budget and decrease our LOB,” McFadden said. “If the state of Kansas, through a lawsuit, is asked to provide more money for schools, why would we want to ask for more from our taxpayers? If the state finds a way to send more money to our school district, we wouldn’t ask for more from our taxpayers.”
Even if the school finance formula is changed in a way that provides more money to the district, McFadden said officials don’t anticipate increased revenues from the state to kick-in immediately.
LOB funding is more flexible than many other tax revenues the school district receives. If approved, McFadden said district officials will lower other revenue sources to maintain the current tax rate.
The additional LOB revenues would be sent to classrooms, he said.
“All seven (board members) were very clear that they would support putting this initiative in front of the voters as long as the district administration followed through with what the money would go to — staff compensation, benefits, and keeping class sizes low,” McFadden said.
With the LOB ballot question, McFadden said district officials are asking for a level of trust from voters.
But voters may have to pass the LOB so board members can prove they can be trusted.
“There’s an element of trust we’re trying to follow through on with the community, and the only way we can do that is to follow through with what we say we’re going to do,” he said.
Registered voters should have received their ballots in the mail last week. In order to be counted, ballots must be returned to the election office by Jan. 27.
Registered voters receive LOB mail-in ballots