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Strained relationship obvious between educators, legislators

...And How sides size up stats and ads to split

From an article By Edie Ross - The Hutchinson News -
Kansas Association of School Boards lobbyist Mark Tallman isn’t sure which word best describes the relationship between Kansas school districts and the Kansas Legislature.

“I guess ‘distrust’ might be as good as any,” he said, adding that both the educators and legislators he talks with are frustrated with how the other party is looking at the school funding issue.

“Districts feel that they are in a position where they are being asked to do more with less. They feel they are trying to operate effectively and are being criticized for doing so,” he said. “Legislators don’t understand why they see many districts continuing to keep large cash reserve balances.
The two sides see different numbers when we talk about what is happening in budgets.”

Others have described the relationship as “strained,” while some say that it is simply a situation of two parties looking at the same problem — not enough money — from different perspectives.

“I don’t know that there is necessarily disagreement or distrust,” Sen. Jay Emler wrote in an e-mail. “But, I think difficult economic times like these can put a strain on any relationship. Our schools are constantly being asked to do more with less … And, in order to balance the budget, the Legislature has been forced to cut spending for everything, including schools. All of this puts a tremendous amount of pressure on our schools and on our elected officials.”

Regardless of their opinion on what is straining the relationship, representatives from both sides agree that honest, face-to-face communication in which both parties speak candidly, put aside any unspoken agendas and have an interest in seeing the other’s perspective is the way to relieve it.

But there are some obstacles. Read more here.

How sides size up stats adds to split
By Ken Stephens - The Hutchinson News -

In the debate over state funding of public education, reasonable people on either side have at their disposal a vast arsenal of statistics.

The differences, most often, are how they analyze those stats and which stats they choose to focus on.

School officials tend to focus on decreases in Base State Aid each of the past three years, and conservative legislators often will point out that's actually only a fraction of state and total spending on education in Kansas.

In the 2010-11 school year, Base State Aid was $3,937 per pupil. Total spending was $12,282 per pupil when including federal and local money and other forms of state aid such as state equalization aid for Local Option Budgets, state aid to help pay off construction bonds and state payments into the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System.

Here's the recent history:
Where does that money come from?
In 2010-11, about 53 percent of those dollars came from the state, 35 percent from local taxpayers and 12 percent from the federal government.
Through the last decade, the federal share grew from 8.2 percent in 2001-02 to 13 percent in 2009-10 because of an infusion of money from the No Child Left Behind law and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was used primarily to avert deeper cuts to Base State Aid when state revenues fell sharply below expectations.

Federal aid dropped to 11.9 percent in 2010-11 and that's projected to drop to 7.8 percent in 2011-12 because the money from ARRA has dried up.

Here's a breakdown of expenditures per pupil since 2001-02:
State aid to K-12 education represents about 51 percent of all spending from the state general fund. For 2011-12, Gov. Sam Brownback's budget called for $3.089 billion in K-12 spending.

Here's a breakdown of budgeted state general fund spending:
For 2011-12, budgeted K-12 spending from all sources rose about 1.5 percent for 2011-12.
State spending is up $129 million, or 5.8 percent, but Base State Aid, which school districts primarily use to pay for operational costs such as salaries, utilities and supplies, is down 3.98 percent.

There are a couple of reasons. One is that 2010-11 Base State Aid was propped up by more than $145 million in federal ARRA and Education Jobs money last year. But the federal money isn't there anymore.

The other reason is a matter of where state funding of education increased.

Only about $27.4 million of the increase went into Base State Aid. The result was that Base State Aid fell for the third straight year to $3,780.
The governor's budget increased state spending for special education by $60 million to help offset the loss of another $52 million in ARRA funds that had been used for special ed the year before. That met federal maintenance of effort requirements. Failure to do so would have resulted in deeper cuts in federal aid for special ed.

State aid to help school districts pay off construction bonds and interest also increased about $5 million and contributions to KPERS about $36 million.

Legislators, including House Speaker Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, point out that school districts were given the authority to transfer money from end-of-year cash balances in a dozen specific funds to their general funds to make up $232 per pupil in BSA cuts since 2009-10.
Statewide, those dozen funds held $640 million, or about 37 percent of the total reserves of $1.7 billion held by 286 school districts last July 1.

The Senate bill authorized the districts to transfer up to $154 million, or about a quarter of that available in the 12 funds.

However, only $23.4 million was transferred by 77 districts.

That's a sore point for those conservative legislators, who point out that despite the tough economic times, school district reserves have consistently grown from year to year. Total reserves last July 1 were $1.71 billion, $142 million more than a year earlier.

O'Neal also noted that the money still remaining in the 12 transferable funds equals 19 percent of what the state has budgeted from its general fund for K-12 education this year. That's another sore point because the state aims to have a 7.5 percent ending balance but hasn't been able to get there in recent years because of the economy.

School superintendents counter that they maintain reserves for a number of reasons. Nearly 49 percent of the reserves cannot be spent for any purpose other than paying off construction bonds and interest or capital outlays, such as buying a new bus or a new boiler or heating and air conditioning system.

In some cases, they're saving money toward a specific project, such as purchasing a new series of textbooks. But mainly their reserves are used to pay salaries and other costs during the weeks and even months before they receive property tax payments and state and federal aid payments. In the last couple of years, they point out, the state was routinely unable to make its monthly aid payments on time.

Many school districts consider it a sound business practice to have reserves equal to two to three months of operating expenses.

Other levels of government share that belief. The city of Hutchinson, for example, had an end-of-year cash balance of about 21 percent of its budgeted funds. Including other funds, which included capital improvements, health insurance, worker's compensation and others, the reserves were just over 49 percent.

The difference between schools and cities, however, is that schools rely on the state to provide more than half their money.


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