More cuts for 257



January 18, 2011 - 12:00 AM

USD 257 has 254 employees, including 108 teachers and 10 administrators.
Most likely, those numbers will be pared when the 2011-12 school year starts.
According to budget proposals made by Gov. Sam Brownback and an analysis by the Kansas Department of Education, the local district may lose as much as $145,000 during the spring semester and another $413,000 next school year in state aid for general operating funds.
Dr. Craig Neuenswander, superintendent of schools, said the financial blow could be handled somewhat by making transfers from the district’s contingency fund — it contains $500,000 — but “that just buys us some time.”
“The contingency money is a ‘rainy day’ fund, but when it’s gone, it’s gone,” he said. “And it won’t keep us from making cuts.”
Salaries account for about 80 percent of general operating expenditures, “so personnel cuts in all likelihood will be considered,” he said.
Neuenswander will leave the district June 30 to become director of finance for the state Department of Education. With that in mind, Neuenswander said he soon would have a proposal to deal with funding concerns.
“I don’t want the district to be up in the air when I leave,” he said.

THIS ISN’T the first time in recent years that the district has had to let staff go due to funding cuts.
Since August 2008, the district has lost $2.08 million in general fund and local option budget (LOB) authority. LOB funding includes a local tax levy of 24 mills this year; the district’s total levy is a little over 48 mills, including the statewide 20-mill assessment for general fund support.
The two funds, which meet all general operating costs, total $12.4 million this year. Of that, $1.6 million is earmarked for special education and passes through the local general fund budget en route to ANW Special Education coffers. The advantage of the pass-through, Neuenswander noted, is that the money is considered when the district figures limits for its LOB, which may be as much as 30 percent of the general fund.
Neuenswander noted that Gov. Brownback said in his State of the State message last week he would propose increased state aid for public schools. The statement was misleading, he observed.
None of the increase will go to general operations, Neuenswander said. Part of the increase is to meet districts’ Kansas Public Employees Retirement obligations, as a pass-through in the general fund. The rest would increase funding for bond and interest payments.
The anticipated loss of state aid for general operations comes from the state taking no steps to make up $200 million in federal stimulus funding that the state used to shore up funding last year, Neuenswander said.
The state’s sagging economy first led to state aid cuts, he said, recalling that base state aid was supposed to reach $4,492 per pupil in a three-year cycle ending in 2009-10, but got only as high as $4,433 before several cuts lowered it to today’s $4,012. If Department of Education projections are correct, cuts this spring and through next school year will reduce base state aid to $3,780 per pupil, Neuenswander said, or “the lowest point since I came to Iola in 1999.”

LOSS OF ENROLLMENT also has had a negative effect on USD 257’s funding.
“We’ve lost 113 students in the last three years,” Neuenswander pointed out, which accounts for about $900,000 in lost state aid during that period. State aid is enrollment driven.
This year’s head count is 1,332 students. The projection is that by 2014-15 it will be less than 1,300.
The decrease has been constant with only a handful of reverses over the past 45 years.
Surprisingly, enrollment bounced up a little after the summer 2007 flood, going from 1,449 the year before to 1,515. Since then, though, annual figures have been less than the year before, except for a slight increase this year of four to 1,332.
In 1966-67, the district had 2,093 students, and that was before pre-school students were included, as they have been since 1997-98.

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