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Ed officials struggle with trying to ‘cut it

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The Hutchinson News
Posted: Wednesday, February 4, 2015 11:07 am
By Mary Clarkin The Hutchinson News mclarkin@hutchnews.com
Pending legislation that would boost cash-strapped state coffers would decrease state aid by a total of $718,756 to school districts in Reno County for the fiscal year ending June 30.
Only Fairfield USD 310, benefiting from its property tax base, would not be affected.
The Kansas Department of Education's estimates show Senate Bill 71 would save the state $39.1 million but would translate into decreased state aid for the Local Option Budget, or LOB, in these amounts:
* Hutchinson USD 308: $266,579
* Buhler USD 313: $205,279
* Nickerson-South Hutchinson USD 309: $109,390
* Haven USD 312: $107,884
* Pretty Prairie USD 311: $29,624.
Hutchinson USD 308 Superintendent Shelly Kiblinger said the district foresaw this could happen and it raised the LOB. She said the district would be able to withstand the cut this year, but there would be long-term ramifications.
Perry McCabe, finance director for Buhler schools, said that district would look for cuts or transfers within the district's overall budget. It also could use its contingency reserves, but $205,279 represents nearly half of Buhler's contingency of $450,000, McCabe noted.
Some districts that don't receive equalization aid would not be affected by a revamped formula for state aid for the LOB and would not experience a cut, said Dodge City USD 443 Superintendent Alan Cunningham.
For example, school districts in Stanton and Haskell counties would not be affected by the change. However, most school districts in the state would feel the budget knife, and Blue Valley school district in Johnson County would see a cut topping $3 million.
"Those of us who are poorer and do depend on that equalization money to provide equitable resources for our kids, we would be adversely affected," Cunningham said.
For Dodge City USD, the projected loss is $352,322.
"Obviously, it's a big concern of ours," said Hays USD 489 Superintendent Dean Katz.
Last year, Katz said, the Hays school district had to slash over $1 million from its budget. "We had many, many layoffs. I think we had to let more than 20 teachers go," Katz said.
Hays would realize a cut of $410,060.
"It would be very difficult" Katz said, to absorb that loss in the current budget year.
During a legislative forum Saturday in South Hutchinson, Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, R-Nickerson, mentioned increased state aid the Legislature authorized last year, after the courts found the state had not adequately financed some school funds.
Bruce characterized the proposal in Senate Bill 71 as a cut to an increase.
Hutchinson Superintendent Kiblinger said that thinking is "very flawed."
When the state put in more money, Kiblinger noted, the mill levy for taxpayers went down. She also noted that USD 308 was among districts that wound up with less money, not more, as a result of the state's funding fix last year.
Kiblinger emphasized that $266,579 under Senate Bill 71 is "an actual cut."
Last year, the Legislature approved the necessary estimated funds to comply with the court ruling. However, in fall 2014, schools reported the estimate had been $63 million short. Schools for Fair Funding is pushing - through the courts -- for the additional $63 million to be funded.
However, none of the school funding bills introduced this year includes the extra $63 million, according to Newton attorney John Robb, who has represented plaintiffs in school funding lawsuits against the state.
"Now, they are taking back the fix," said Robb of the Legislature's move to trim school funding.
Robb called the Legislature's actions "disappointing."
At a Senate Ways and Means Committee hearing Tuesday on Senate Bill 71, the Kansas Association of School Boards testified against the bill, and the Kansas Policy Institute testified for it.
The News was unable to reach Senate Majority Leader Bruce or the Kansas Policy Institute on Wednesday.

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