July 30, 2008

Salina School District Discusses Its Financial Situation

By Michael Strand, The Salina Journal, Kan.

Jul. 30--Two people did come to Tuesday's special meeting of the Salina School Board with questions about the proposed budget for the 2008-09 school year, and they appeared to be satisfied with the answers they got from district staff.

The proposed budget includes a property tax increase of 3.6 mills, enough to add about $41 in taxes to a $100,000 home.

Most of that increase is from a 2-mill increase in the district's capital outlay budget, increasing that fund from 4 mills to 6 mills. That will bring in about $2.5 million, to be split among upgrading computers, computer networks and other technology, replacing vehicles and maintaining and upgrading buildings.

The budget also includes a $59-a-student increase in base state funding, for a total of $4,443 a student, plus an increase of nearly $1.4 million in state funding for programs for at-risk students. Those are part of the outcome of a 1999 lawsuit against the state filed by Salina and other districts over state funding for education.

District business director Lisa Peters said that the board's decision to increase the capital outlay budget had been made in February and was publicized at the time. Since it was proposed, she said, there have been "no inquiries from the public" about it.

Salina developer Stan Byquist told the board he had several questions, and that "in light of current economic conditions, it looks like property owners in Salina are going to be paying more."

Byquist questioned a substantial increase in the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System budget, which rose from $3.7 million to $4.8 million, and also the budget for Salina Area Technical School, which shows an increase from $3.2 million to $6.8 million.

Peters explained that the KPERS budget increase was because of an increase in state funding to the retirement system, and that money is deposited electronically by the state into the district's account, and then withdrawn electronically by the state about three hours later.

As for the technical school increase, Peters said the difference represents carry-over money in the school's budget. When the technical school becomes independent of the school district as part of becoming a technical college, the district will write the college a check for that amount -- and so has to include it in the budget.

Several board members spoke in favor of the proposed budget, including the tax increase.

"The millage is going up, and some of that is voluntary on our part," said board member Gary Denning. He said the 4-mill rate for capital outlay had been in place for as far back as he could remember, and that back then "the only computer in the building was the adding machine on the principal's secretary's desk."

Today, he said the district has computers in every classroom, and a complex infrastructure to support them, and has to keep all of that working and updated.

As for the overall budget, Denning said, "I support it now, and will support it in August."

The district has scheduled a public hearing on the budget at its meeting at 5 p.m. on Aug. 12, and will vote on it after that.

Board member Mary Anne Trickle said she thought the capital outlay increase was needed to maintain the district's property in good condition. She said many of Salina's peer schools already have 6-mill, or even 8-mill capital outlay levies.

"Never do I want to see us get into the situation the Board of Regents are in," she said, referring to an estimated $700 million in repairs needed at the state's universities.


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