USD 257 to tax more and spend less

By BOB JOHNSON
Register City Editor

USD 257 board members approved a 2009-10 budget Monday night that requires a higher tax levy than last year but has less money in it for general operations.
The levy will increase 15 percent, 6.296 mills to 48.067 mills, although that likely will be reduced a smidgen in late fall when final valuation figures are known and the levy is adjusted accordingly.
General fund expenditures are pegged at $10,079,755, with $1.59 million of that being special education funding from the state that passes through the local budget and goes to the ANW Special Education Cooperative. That leaves $8,493,355 for salaries and other operating expenses.
In addition, the district will have $3,202,388 in local option budget money to supplement the general fund. The LOB is where most of the levy increase resides.
Because of changes that came about in state funding for the LOB, the district will raise $27,000 less with a levy of 5.286 mills more, at 23.067. The reason is that the district lost $256,000 in state aid for the supplement budget due to falling state revenues.
Dr. Craig Neuenswander, superintendent of schools, explained the reduction in state participation occurred because USD 257 became relatively more wealthy in comparison with other districts and state aid for LOBs was cut to deal with revenue shortfalls in Topeka.
“Last year the LOB received 66 percent state aid,” Neuenswander said. Then, Russell Stover Candies and Wal-Mart valuations increased the district’s valuation by more than $6 million to $50.75 million, which left per-pupil wealth higher in comparison with other districts.
The other 1 mill of tax increase is in the capital outlay fund, which puts it at 5 mills. The levy was supposed to have been 5 mills last year, but was reduced by county officials to 4, a change made because they weren’t aware that the Legislature had changed the limit to 8 mills. The change wasn’t detected by Neuenswander until a month ago, too late to reinstate, when he reviewed the previous budget to start preparing the new one.
The state also has stopped contributing to capital outlay funds, requiring school districts to raise their levies. The 5 mill levy will raise $253,758 and raise the fund’s budgeted expenditures to $800,000 this year.
“We’ll spend about half that,” Neuenswander said, noting that the capital outlay is the only fund where money purposely may be built up over a period of years.
That is the nature of the capital outlay fund, which may be used for equipment, building repairs and construction and other things outside of regular operating expenses. The savings account approach gives districts a way to establish “rainy day” accounts.
Also, this year the district will draw about $120,000 from the capital outlay fund to pay for the use of classrooms and performance areas in the Bowlus Fine Arts Center. In the past the payments were made to the Bowlus from the general fund; moving it elsewhere frees up that much for general operations.

ALTOGETHER, the district lost $608,262 in general fund and LOB money when state aid was reduced to $4,218 per pupil, from $4,433 a year ago today. That was done to deal with a $1.2 billion tax revenue shortfall in Topeka.
Neuenswander figured another $168,607 was necessary this year to meet additional costs of utilities, food and salary increased promised teachers through steps for education and tenure in the previous contract and comparable increases for non-certified employees and administrators.
Steps taken to reduce local expenditures, including closing the LaHarpe school, staff changes and other cuts, plus a budget carryover of $184,700 leaves the district with a budgeted $71,225 balance starting this year.
“We’ll open the doors, have school and do a good job of educating kids again this year,” Neuenswander said, although “I will be a little nervous.”
His nervousness comes from predictions that state revenue will continue to fall which could lead to additional cuts in school budgets.
State Sen. Derek Schmidt said here last week that most state officials anticipate further losses of tax revenue and more budget reductions.