Gov. Sam Brownback unveiled his school finance plan this week amid a wide array of complaints from all areas of K-12 education. His plan is no surprise. I warned of hints of transferring taxes in the campaigning governorís early remarks about education and changed my support to Tom Holland in the general election. My worries were right on. Brownback has continued his attack on public education. While on the Ottawa school board 25 years ago, I opposed repeated efforts of the Johnson County districts to raise the limit on local option budget taxation. There have been continued political battles to change the school funding formula.
A 1-percent increase in Johnson County raises about a million and a half dollars, while in Ottawa it raises $115,667.† The larger school districts want to keep their money for their schools. The strategy has been to raise the limit on the so-called local option budget tax or LOB. It now is capped at 30 percent of state aid. The Ottawa school district is maxed at 30 percent. Brownback has recommended eliminating the cap. He has offered a new formula that has adjusted some school districtís state aid. Ottawa School Superintendent Dean Katt has said local schools will see no increase.
The effect of the governorís proposal is to fix state aid without restoring any funding lost in the recent devastating cuts. So now we have transferred the quality of public education to the local property tax payer. But the LOB only can be increased by a vote at the polls. And that is a much more difficult sell in Ottawa than it is in Johnson County.
A further trouble is that our schools must compete with Kansas City, Olathe and Lawrence when it comes to hiring or retaining teachers and it will be left to the school board to decide whether to ask the voters for an increase to restore the cuts made in the classroom by the recent cutbacks in state aid. There is no provision to increase state aid if and when the Kansas economy improves.
When Kansas last faced this battle in the 1980s, many smaller school districts, principally in western Kansas, sued the state as they, like Ottawa, had mandated costs not proportionately shared in Johnson County for such things as transportation, programs for at-risk children and English-as-a-second-language. Judge Terry Bullock of Shawnee County ruled in favor of the schools.
Unless our legislators road block our governor on this, we will travel down the same road again. The only problem with the current school finance formula is the funding of it.
ó Dr. Bud Gollier, Ottawa