A lot of new people are going to be in the legislature because of lawmakers who either did not run again or have already been defeated in the primary Stuart Little told the school board this week during its legislative platform workshop. Because of the tax reduction bill passed last year, there will be no new tax revenue, Little predicted. The choice before legislators trying to make ends meet could include allowing some other new revenue — include local taxing options. Or it could turn toward letting the list of things schools can’t do now get even worse.
Not surprisingly, the front page of the platform brochure starts with the “Fiscal Crisis in Shawnee Mission.”
The points are familiar to anyone following the financial fortunes of the schools in the last few years:
- $25.5 million in cuts to the operating budget since 2009 as a result of reduced state funding
- 399 fewer staff members since 2009 serving the same number of students
- $10.5 million projected fund balance ending fiscal 2013 – one month of operating expense is approximately $18 million
- closing of six schools since 2007
Providing greater ability to for districts to raise money locally and apply it to their own operations will likely be a key component of the platform, although the board discussed different methods for raising local dollars that would keep more money in Johnson County.
“I don’t think we should target a specific type of local increase,” Superintendent Gene Johnson told the board.
In a “Did you know?” section the draft platform points out that “For every $1 Johnson County taxpayers send to Topeka, 34.5 cents are returned for school operations.”
Johnson also supported the section of the platform that points out what the district cannot do under current funding levels. Those include:
- Return to lower class size guidelines, especially at the elementary level
- Provide district-paid all-day kindergarten
- Expand early childhood education
- Develop new academic programs
- Adequately compensate staff
- Hire counselors and social workers at expected level
- Reinstate social worker support for homeless students
- Fully support technology training
- Fully clean classrooms daily (now cleaned every few days)
The platform was presented in draft form and board members talked about language and approaches. A final version will be adopted at a future board meeting.