School finance picture unclear
Officials fear burden will shift to local taxpayers
by Clarke Davis
While Valley Falls Superintendent Loren Feldkamp is cautiously optimistic about the governor’s school finance proposal, he wonders if it will be recognizable once the Legislature gets through with it.
“I just want each student to get a quality education,” Feldkamp said in an interview last week. He’s not sure small schools with low ad valorem tax valuations will be able to do that in the future if they are losing student population.
Under the plan, the state would provide $4,492 for each full time student enrolled and kindergarten children would be considered full time and not half time as they are now. The figure is close to what the court ruled three years ago and considerably more than the $3,780 now provided.
The governor’s proposal would add about $215,000 to the USD 338 annual budget, but considerably less than the $350,000 that has been cut from the budget the past three years.
All Jefferson County school districts would see an increase of a like amount under the plan except Perry-Lecompton. Preliminary figures range from the lowest increase for Valley Falls to a high of $408,000 for Jefferson West.
The proposal also gets rid of the “weighted” formula that gave the schools additional money for transportion, at-risk students, capital outlay, new facilities, etc.
It’s these weighted factors that help rural schools that have the greater transportation costs and the low valuations.
For instance, Valley Falls has a total student population of around 392 students, but once the “weighted” factors are added a figure close to 820 is used to multiply the base amount per pupil. In other words, the student population almost doubles under that formula.
There is also a “hold harmless” provision provided the school board does not decrease the local tax rate. The lid would be taken off the local tax rate a board could assess, but it would be subject to a protest petition.
It’s not clear if the governor would help local districts with bond issues for new facilities, but it looks doubtful.
The final plan when approved would not become effective until the 2013-14 school year.
Feldkamp provided the following, which is the latest from the state Department of Education:
• School districts would receive $4,492 for each regularly enrolled student (Kindergarten at 1.0 and virtual students at .75).
• The plan includes a hold harmless provision equal to the general state aid, supplemental general state aid (LOB), general fund local effort, and supplemental general fund (LOB) local effort.
•Hold harmless amount will change yearly subject to enrollment increasing/decreasing.
• The plan includes a 20-mill statewide levy based upon the general fund valuation that is distributed on an equalization formula as defined in Column 8 of the Column Explanation.
• The increase under this plan is limited to 6 percent assuming that the local mill rate remains the same as the 2012-13 school year.
• The local effort must equal the LOB property tax rate in the prior school year to receive 100 percent of hold harmless.
• A school board may increase their local property tax in order to raise their budget above the formula amount, subject to protest petition.
• The following weightings have been eliminated: enrollment, bilingual education, vocational education, K-12 at-risk, high-density at-risk non-proficient students, new facilities, transportation, ancillary facilities, declining enrollment, and cost of living.
• The special education state aid distribution will not change.
• A new plan for vocational education is under development.
• The final details on bond and interest state aid for future bond issues has not been determined. The Governor wants to focus state resources on classrooms.
• The combining of general fund budgets for consolidated school districts will remain in effect. The process for adjusting budgets at the end of the time period has not been finalized.
The Valley Falls school board met Dec. 12. Following are some of its business items:
Riley Bunde was hired to provide additional custodian help on game nights. He was hired from among 11 applicants for the job.
Bill Metzger of Valley Truck & Trailer has been contracted for snow removal at the school. He will be used to clear parking areas only when snow amounts exceed a couple of inches.
Natalie Wang has been hired as a long-term substitute for art teacher Megan Turner in the spring. Turner is expecting a child. Wang (pronounced Wong) was a student teacher this fall working with Turner.
Members of the Valley Falls Recreation Commission have met recently with school officials and board members Jody Lockhart and John Shipley to iron out arrangements for the public’s use of the fitness facilities.
The school’s concern, according to Superintendent Loren Feldkamp, is security for the rest of the school facilities. They are discussing ways to keep people from gaining entrance to the rest of the school buildings and the costs associated with it.
Board member Heidi Pickerell also brought to the board the idea of establishing a foundation to accept endowments or wills that would support the school. A committee will be appointed to look into this.
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