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LOB for 489

Patrons of Hays USD 489 need to pay close attention to their mailboxes in about two weeks. Ballots will be sent June 10 from the district, seeking approval of a 1-percent increase in the Local Option Budget.

Board of Education members are hoping the election has a "yes" result, as it would give the district almost $200,000 to use during the upcoming school year. The elected officials have indicated the money would be used primarily to reduce class sizes that are scheduled to increase because of recently announced layoffs.

There are a few quirks in this LOB election local residents need be aware of before casting their votes.

The first comes about because of the way the Kansas Legislature tweaked the school finance formula this past session. If there were no LOB vote, the existing mill levy would go down 0.54 mills. Similarly, if the upcoming ballot measure was defeated, that same decrease would take place.

Because of the same legislative tweak, if voters approve increasing the LOB from 30 percent to 31 percent, the effect would be nominal. The owner of a $100,000 home would have their taxes increase a mere $2.30. That's not even 20 cents per month.

But there is more to the story. Another wrinkle in this year's legislation would allow any district that goes to the maximum 31 percent the ability to raise it another 2 percent with a simple majority of the local board of education. Hays BOE members have indicated that is their intention, which would result in that $100,000 home's owner seeing an annual tax hike of $133.40. Still just a bit more than $11 per month, which isn't that bad as long as one supports how those dollars would be spent.

As mentioned already, the board appears ready to hire teachers with the first 1-percent increase. The other 2 percent boost, which could renew only with the approval of district voters, doesn't appear destined for teacher hirings. During board discussions at the past few meetings, a consensus has emerged to avoid funding ongoing expenses with that approximate $400,000. Two weeks ago, the BOE agreed to reduce the fee schedule if the LOB vote passes. More than likely, the district will not reinstate in-town busing, but higher fees for textbooks, materials, activities and all-day kindergarten could be rescinded.

The only discussed use of an increased local option budget we would not support would be to build up reserves. While reserves make perfect business sense and allow the district flexibility when dealing with delayed or decreased payments from the state, the current Legislature does not look kindly at any reserves. In fact, lawmakers have somehow justified at least part of their inadequate funding of schools with the belief districts should spend down all reserves.

And these legislators are set for a rude awakening shortly when hearing percisely how inadequate current funding levels are by the court.

We believe Hays USD 489's financial distress has been caused in great part by a governor and Legislature intent on overriding the will of the people. The Kansas Supreme Court already has ruled funding for public education today is unconstitutional because it is inadequate. A lower court has been instructed to determine how inadequate it is.

Voting to increase 489's local option budget will bide the district time until legislators remedy the self-inflicted crisis. As long as the BOE vows to spend all of the new LOB money on more teachers and less fees, we would recommend voters approve the mail-in ballot measure.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net