The Kansas City, Kan., School District will receive just $400,000 extra rather than the $2 million it requested from the state to help pay for enrollment increases this year. The Olathe and Bonner Springs districts will get got no extra money.
The decision Monday by the State Finance Council, made up of Gov. Sam Brownback and top leaders in the Legislature, was a blow to school district officials.
“Frustrated,” said Kansas City, Kan., Superintendent Cynthia Lane, who was visibly upset. “So we’re getting less than $1,000 a child for an increased enrollment of 507 students.”
Thirty-eight school districts across the state applied for “extraordinary need” money from the state, a process that’s part of Kansas’ switch from per-student funding to block-grant funding.
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The new law set aside $12.3 million for unexpected needs this school year, such as enrollment increases and dips in property tax values. District requests to the council totaled about $15 million.
In all, the council approved a little more than $2 million for 13 districts seeking extraordinary-need money due to enrollment increases. It approved about $4 million for 22 mostly rural districts faced with property value decreases, attributed in large part to the slumping oil and gas industry.
As tough as the day went for Kansas City, Kan., the Olathe and Bonner Springs districts fared worse, with neither receiving additional funds.
Bonner Springs had requested about $155,000 for an enrollment increase of 39, and Olathe asked for about $458,000 for an increase of 115 students.
After the council meeting, Brownback acknowledged that he and many lawmakers on the nine-member panel struggled with how to define need.
“This is the first time trying to figure out what’s an ‘extraordinary need,’” he said. “I think it’s a prudent way to move forward.”
Budget director Shawn Sullivan said nothing prevented districts from making other requests. But the state Education Department said that, except for discussions postponed until October on requests from Wichita and a few other districts, Monday’s extraordinary-need review was the last for this school year.
Lane said she plans on pursuing more state funds.
“We’ll keep coming back until we get the resources needed to take care of the educational needs of our children,” she said.
On Monday, the council got stingier as the meeting progressed. Sullivan had made a recommendation that a 1 percent increase in student enrollment should qualify as an extraordinary need.
In that scenario, the Kansas City, Kan., district would have received $1.2 million and Bonner Springs about $55,000. Olathe’s fund allotment still would have been zero.
But at the urging of Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, the council agreed to increase the threshold to 2 percent, drastically reducing or zeroing out the amounts recommended by Sullivan.
All seven Republicans on the council voted in favor of the tougher requirement. The two council Democrats supported the 1 percent threshold.
“We walk away disappointed, but we understand,” said Olathe Superintendent Marlin Berry. “We’re respectful of the process.”
But Bonner Springs Superintendent Dan Brungardt questioned the process. He pointed out to the council that the extraordinary-need fund was financed by the school districts. The block grant formula sets aside 0.4 percent from each district to create the fund.
His district had paid about $52,000 into the fund, he said, and under the budget director’s recommendation would have received about $55,000 to help pay for its enrollment increase of 39. In effect, he told the council, “that’s only $3,000 for an additional 39 students.”
Sen. Ty Masterson of Andover, a council member, responded that the 0.4 percent from the districts should be viewed as “an insurance policy.”
But in the end Bonner Springs received no additional money.
“I think it’s sad the school districts are charged this money,” Brungardt said after the meeting, “and that the council didn’t go with Mr. Sullivan’s recommendation.”
Lane, the Kansas City, Kan., superintendent, told council members that the number of additional students was only part of the enrollment-increase equation.
Of the 507 additional students in her district, she said, 400 would qualify for the free-lunch program and 200 for bilingual services. Thirty-three are migrant refugee children.
“It’s not just about a head count,” she said. “We have to meet the needs of our students.”
Lane took questions from Rep. Ron Ryckman Jr. of Olathe about the size of the district’s administrative staff and from Brownback about the percentage of the district’s budget spent specifically in the classroom.
The statistic that just over half of school budgets goes to classroom expenses “is a big source of frustration for a lot of people,” Brownback said.
“Right now I think the definition (of classroom expenses) is misleading because it’s so narrow,” Lane said.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, one of the two Democrats on the council, objected that the council followed Sullivan’s recommendation for funding the rural district requests but not for the requests of the more urban and suburban districts with enrollment increases.
“I think it’s a matter of equity,” he said.