The Shawnee Mission School District is keeping a wary eye on Topeka as it awaits $50 million in budget cuts statewide, continued sluggish revenue collections and a Kansas Supreme Court decision on school funding.
District Superintendent Jim Hinson told school board members at their monthly meeting Thursday that he fully expects the state at some point in the coming school year to cut funding to schools and that his staff has taken precautions to keep the district afloat in all but the most catastrophic of financial situations.
“We’re trying to be very prudent, very careful,” Hinson said. “We do not want to be in a situation where all of the sudden in January we lose a very significant amount of money and we’re trying to figure out what do we do to make ends meet in the middle of our fiscal year. So as much as possible we’re trying to prepare for this scenario that unfortunately right now we think is likely.”
Overall, the district ended the 2014-2015 fiscal year with $18.4 million in contingency and other fund balances that could be used to make up for state funding losses. But Hinson noted that that amount is equal to about one month of district operations.
“It doesn’t put us in a position to handle drastic cuts by the state,” he said after the meeting.
The Kansas Legislature in June passed a $15 billion budget that counts on Gov. Sam Brownback making $50 million in cuts to widen the state’s tiny financial cushion.
Brownback has so far not said where those cuts will come from. Meanwhile, the state continues to struggle with revenue, taking in more than $22 million less than predicted at the end of June.
Perhaps overshadowing the revenue questions is the legal battle brewing over how the state pays for education.
A three-judge panel of the Shawnee County District Court last month invalidated the Legislature’s plan to fund education through a series of block grants instead of the old per-student formula. The three-judge panel also ordered state lawmakers to provide an additional $50 million to the school districts through the previous school funding formula.
The Supreme Court stayed the ruling while it hears the state’s appeal, although it hasn’t yet scheduled a hearing.
Board member Cindy Neighbor, a former Democratic state representative and former president of the Kansas Association of School Boards, said she doesn’t think Brownback will make the budget cuts.
“They are hoping that the court will make a decision so they can blame the courts instead of the Legislature taking responsibility,” Neighbor said. “If that happens we already know that there are some lines drawn in the sand between the judiciary and the Legislature.”