Recent school finance committee recommendations and the start of the legislative session have Ellis USD 388 Superintendent Robert Young concerned.
“I think the problem is a mindset for this year that with revenue down, they’re going to have to cut into education,” Young said.
Ness City USD 303 Superintendent Derek Reinhardt wonders what direction legislators are going to take things.
Will it be “we have this much money to spend, or these are things we need to be able to fund and put money where it needs to be.”
Changes might attempt to make rules to correct situations that apply to a small number of districts.
“Those rules could have a damaging effect on the vast majority of us,” Reinhardt said.
“The proposals that they have might work in Kansas City,” Young said. “They don’t work in western Kansas. If any of the concepts get traction, it could change our whole way of life out here.”
The recommendation to have the state take control of which districts can have a bond issue is of particular concern to WaKeeney USD 208 Superintendent George Griffiths.
Since local tax dollars go to the state, the argument that some school districts receive state aid to help pay for bonds and the state should have more control doesn’t impress him, Griffiths said.
“Taking away some of the control of the local boards and local communities is a questionable idea,” Griffiths said. “Touching on local control is a violation of the Kansas Constitution.”
Some of the recommendations, such as cutting the connection to the federal government, are illegal, Young said.
The Ellis school district gets approximately $250,000 in federal funds, he said.
“I don’t know where I’m going to come up with that $250,000 if I’m not getting it from the federal government,” Young said.
The idea of privatizing some services such as food, transportation and maintenance could end up costing some districts more.
“Privatizing requires somebody making a profit somewhere,” Griffiths said.
The Ness City school district asked for bids to privatize food service and maintenance last year in an effort to cut costs.
“It would have cost us more to privatize than to do some of the things that we put into place in the district,” Reinhardt said.
Eliminating school district jobs in small communities would damage the local economy, Young said.
“Where are those people going to go?” he asked. “Where are they going to get work in this community?”
Privatizing might work in large communities, but not in small western Kansas ones, Stockton USD 271 Superintendent Allaire Homburg said.
With state revenues less than projected, Griffiths said there’s a good chance school districts could see cuts this year.
Reinhardt said he doesn’t expect the state economy to improve any time soon, and the budget deficit likely will get bigger.
“If that’s the case, (legislators are) going to have to do some sort of allotments,” Reinhardt said.
The Stockton district tries to be frugal, but by this time of the year, “the majority of our budget is already spoken for,” Homburg said. “We are going to have to pay the people that are under contract. We are going to have to heat the buildings, and then we’ll have to cool them. Those are things that we really can’t control much.”
“I think this is going to be a very, very rough legislative session on western Kansas,” Young said. “If we don’t start helping ourselves a little bit, we’re going to be in trouble.”