Local control an empty promise in K-12 education
The USD 491 Board of Education will have a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 12 before taking action on the 2004-2005 budget. Although we don't dismiss the work that goes into the district's annual budget, to a large extent the process is proscribed.
The current state funding formula severely constrains how local school boards can raise and spend tax dollars. All districts are required to pass budgets with 20 mills to be sent to the state for redistribution (Eudora is still small enough that more general fund money is returned rather than forwarded). On top of that, each district has the authority to ask for additional mill levy support up to a maximum of 25 percent of the general fund dollars they receive from the state. Every district in Johnson and Douglas counties is asking for that authority, an indication it is less an option than a necessity.
Finally, local districts can ask for additional mill levy support, with the approval of their residents, for a capital outlay fund and to retire bond issues. Past policies and voter referendums decided the mill levy needed for the bond payment.
Compare this to the budget latitude counties and municipalities have. They have sales taxes, property taxes and a whole host of user fees and fines to offset the cost of government. School districts don't have the direct authority to widen their tax bases with sales taxes, and few would argue that they should. User fees would limit opportunities available to some students.
Against this reality, there is much talk of giving school boards greater control. That can only mean a greater reliance on property taxes. The revenue from the state general fund includes dollars from the income taxes, sales taxes and the statewide 20-mill levy. This is one area where local control isn't the answer for Eudora.