Archive for Thursday, August 3, 2006

USD 491 to focus on budget with ruling

August 3, 2006

With school finance questions no longer looming for the Eudora USD 491 Board of Education at the state level, the district can focus its energies on the 2006--2007 budget.

The Kansas State Supreme Court Friday deemed efforts by the Kansas Legislature earlier in the year were sufficient to provide equitable funding across the state.

The court split 4-2 with two justices ---- Carol Beier and Marla Luckert ---- saying they would have allowed the new school finance law to take effect for this school year, but would have ordered that an education cost study done for the Legislature be analyzed by a state district court.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and lawmakers breathed a sigh of relief once the decision was announced.

"This ruling is good news for Kansas and a welcome resolution to this case," Sebelius said.

"I'm relieved; somewhat surprised," said House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, who has been a vocal critic of the Court over its previous rulings in the case.

The school finance lawsuit has been the No. 1 political issue before the Legislature the past two years.

At stake in the case was the $3.1 billion funding method that supports the 450,000 student public school system.

The Kansas Supreme Court declared the system unconstitutional in 2005 because it shortchanged all students, especially schools in districts with high proportions of low-income students. Some of those districts brought the lawsuit in 1999.

The court accepted a $290 million increase, after a contentious special legislative session last summer, as a down payment pending outcome of a study showing the actual costs of an adequate education.

That study done by the Legislative Division of Post Audit recommended a $400 million increase for the next school year.

In May, the Legislature approved a $466 million increase, but stretched that over three years with the first-year increase totaling $194.5 million. That measure, called Senate Bill 549, was argued before the Court in June.

Superintendent Marty Kobza told the Eudora Board of Education July 13 that he didn't predict much change over the Legislature's proposal adopted in May.

"I don't think we'll see things significantly different from what they are now," Kobza said.

With Kobza's prediction panning out, the district will get an extra $256,641 for the district for the first year.

In addition to the new state money ---- some of which is categorical and can only be spent in certain areas ---- the district is estimating as many as 40 new students could be joining the district.

"We want to be conservative," Kobza said.

The money from the state, new enrollment and the extra garnered from the district's new facilities weighting from modular classrooms gave the district a clear view of what the 2006-2007 budget might look like.

"There aren't any major concerns," Kobza said. "There's not a lot of breathing room, but it's a solid budget."

-- Lawrence Journal-World reporter Scott Rothschild contributed to this story. He can be reached at srothschild@theworldco.info.

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