Regardless of Brookwood and Mission Valley’s fate, Shawnee Mission facing tough budget future

Much of the debate about whether the Shawnee Mission School District board of education should approve proposals to close Mission Valley Middle School and move Brookwood Elementary into the SM South attendance area has focused on money — would the funds the district projects it will save justify changes that are unpopular with a number of residents?

Fred Logan

But no matter what happens with the proposals, one thing is certain: until the state’s school funding formula is changed, Shawnee Mission faces an ugly budget picture.

Fred Logan, chair of the Committee for Excellence, an advocacy group trying to get lawmakers to amend the funding formula, said the district will continue to deal with major budgetary challenges until a new funding system is approved. The formula, which was initially passed by the state government in 1992 and has faced a number of legal challenges since, was designed to provide equitable funding to schools across the state, but is often faulted for moving money out of areas with large tax bases, like Johnson County, and into rural communities, causing major financial challenges for the more urban districts.

“Shawnee Mission is looking at a very tough school finance picture, even outside of the discussion about boundary changes and school closings,” Logan said.

For evidence, he said, you don’t need to look any further than what happened with the district’s 2010-2011 financial projections. Even after the state legislature passed a one-cent sales tax increase to stave off major cuts to education — one of the largest sales tax increases in the state’s history — Shawnee Mission still had to cut its annual budget by more than $9 million and faced the prospect of teacher layoffs.

However, Logan said, the state’s budget challenges and the upcoming elections may provide a window in which the formula issue — long a point of major political contention — could be addressed.

“Chances for changing the formula look better now than they have in a long time,” Logan said. “That’s not to say that anything at all is certain — this has been a tough issue for a long time. But a number of lawmakers are starting to look at this and realize the formula is broken and is unsustainable.”

(For more on how the gubernatorial candidates say they would address the school funding issue, see this article from the Star).

A list of the Committee for Excellence’s 10 guiding principles for school finance reform is after the jump.

COMMITTEE FOR EXCELLENCE’S GUIDING PRINCIPLES FOR SCHOOL FINANCE REFORM

It is imperative that Kansas adopt a new formula for the funding of K-12 education in the state. The following principles should guide the crafting and adoption of a new school finance formula:

1. Fair: The legislation should be fair to all school districts.

2. Financially sustainable: The legislation should be financially sustainable for the long term.

3. Greater local authority; promote excellence, not mediocrity: School finance legislation should reflect that the state’s goal is excellence, not mediocrity. The legislation must accordingly allow voters greater authority in financing school district operations. The law should authorize voters in a school district to approve an excellence budget at an election.

4. Appropriate use of equalization: The school finance formula should be equalized at appropriate levels.

5. Consider authorizing a mix of alternative revenue sources and property taxes to fund school district operations; avoid over-reliance on property taxes: The legislature should consider authorizing a mix of alternative revenue sources and property taxes to fund school district operations. The legislature should avoid an over-reliance on property taxes.

6. Flexibility: Any new formula should provide local district flexibility for unique and extraordinary circumstances that may currently exist or arise in the future.

7. Transparent and understandable: The legislation should be as transparent and understandable as possible. Transparency will promote better planning and greater fiscal accountability.

8. School finance reform should not include vouchers: School finance reform should not include provisions to create a voucher system.

9. No mandatory consolidation: School finance legislation should not mandate consolidation of school districts.

10. Stop the endless cycle of litigation: The present formula has caused seemingly endless litigation. A fair formula that is transparent will put the focus in the classroom rather than the courtroom.