School boards will be required to adopt 2016 budgets before the end of August, despite questions about the legality of block grant school funding.
Legislators approved a plan to fund public schools using block grants next year, but a Shawnee County District Court ruled that plan was unconstitutional last week. The district court ordered the state to provide more funding. A few days later, the Kansas Supreme Court issued a stay, allowing block grant funding while the case is under appeal.
Gov. Sam Brownback said the ruling violates the constutiional authority of the three-judge panel.
“It has now taken upon itself the powers specifically and clearly assigned to the legislative and executive branches of government,” Brownback said in a press release following the ruling. “In doing so, it has replaced the judgment of Kansas voters with the judgment of unelected activist judges.”
Jeremy McFadden, USD 231 business director, said the Gardner Edgerton School District will prepare a budget under the assumption the district will receive block grant funding in 2016.
“There are a lot of unknowns still to be worked out,” McFadden said. “I just don’t know that we’re going to see extra funding in 2015-16. We’re preparing the budget as if that funding won’t be there.”
The block grant funding essentially froze school funding through the state at last year’s funding levels while readjusting the way schools receive equalization and local option budget funding.
“The recent decision is saying the way the Legislature figured equalization moving forward is not equitable,” McFadden said.
The changes in the equalization formula will result in the Gardner Edgerton School District receiving approximately $250,000 less than anticipated for equalization funding. Changes to the LOB funding mean USD 231 will receive $200,000 to $300,000 less than the district would have received prior to the block grant funding.
School finance officials typically begin working on a budget for the following school year in June. They receive software from the Kansas State Department of Education to assist in budget preparation in early June as well. However, the Kansas Legislature was still deliberating in early June.
KSDE’s budget software has yet to be made available to school districts. McFadden anticipates he will have that software in mid-July. He will use it to propose a 2015-2016 budget to school board members at the July 27 board meeting.
Municipal, county and school budgets must be approved and sent to the county and state no later than Aug. 25. The budget process requires that budgets be proposed, published, a hearing be scheduled and then be approved before submission to the state.
Kansas school district finance officers will be working double time to make that happen once the budget software is available.
McFadden will propose a budget to board members on July 27 and a public hearing on the budget is scheduled for Aug. 10.
“This year, there’s no wiggle room in July,” McFadden said. “It’s going to be tight.”
He anticipates proposing a budget with a flat or decreased mill levy, or tax, rate. The district has greater LOB authority and assessed valuation for the district is up.
McFadden said the recent court decision ordering the state to provide more funding to schools and the Supreme Court’s stay of that order was a budget curve ball.
“We’ll just sit back and kind of see what happens when the dust settles,” he said.
Courts throw curve into school budgeting