Budget plight hits Iola up close and personal


January 27, 2010 - 12:00 AM

Two Kansas executives talked turkey about money yesterday: Dr. Craig Neuenswander, superintendent of USD 257 schools, and Mark Parkinson, governor of Kansas.
Both were talking about the same dollars. Those that pay for the education of Kansas children and young adults; dollars that are not yet in sight.
Dr. Neuenswander warned that Iola’s schools aren’t going to have enough money unless taxes are raised in the district, more money comes from the state or the federal tooth fairy leaves a bundle under 257’s pillow.
Gov. Parkinson said, again, “we’re not asking people to summon up an incredible amount of courage. We’re just asking them to do the right thing. The only way it’s going to add up is new revenue.”
The federal deficit is going to be $1.3 trillion this year, the second trillion dollar deficit in a row. Sending more borrowed money to the states can be justified only as economic stimulation. A growing number of economists advise cutting back on the deficits because they invite inflation.
Kansas should take care of its own and the place to start is raising the money it takes to fund the public schools and the state’s community colleges and universities at an adequate level.
As Dr. Neuenswander said Monday, the local budget has been cut deeply over the past two years. Further reductions can be made only by slashing faculty and operational staff. This prospect makes the school budget issue local and personal.
Iola families will be impacted. Iola families should become involved.
There isn’t any orthodox way for the school district to raise more money this school year. The budget was set last summer. Tax statements have been sent out. Many taxpayers have already paid for the 2009-2010 year. If there is a way to send out a supplemental statement to let local taxpayers pick up what the state hasn’t yet decided to pay, this newspaper isn’t aware of the statute.
Asking for voluntary contributions is not likely to pay the tab.
What Iolans can do is urge Sen. Derek Schmidt and Rep. Bill Otto to vote for the taxes Gov. Parkinson proposed in his state of the state address as the Legislature conven-ed. The governor asked for an additional penny on the sales tax for the next three years and increases in tobacco taxes. The sales tax hike would raise about $306 million; the tobacco tax increase would produce an additional $68 million.
Those increases would keep school funding level.
Gov. Parkinson’s package has three advantages: it is easy to understand, it would bring in money quickly and it would discourage tobacco use, which would save the state money in health care costs avoided in the long run. He would be delighted to accept any alternative package that would raise the same amount of money in the same amount of time.

IT CAN BE argued that a tax increase of any kind would slow economic recovery. That’s true in theory, but it is next to impossible to put a number on the impact. Would adding a penny on the sales tax slow the state’s economic growth by a percentage point? Truth is, nobody has a formula equal to the calculation.
What is predictable is that schools forced to fire teachers, consolidate classes, go to four-day weeks and make other system-changing reductions that budget cuts force upon them will not be able to rachet back up to adequacy overnight. It is also true that the students impacted by those reduced opportunities will suffer permanent losses. As has been said before, students can’t recover in the future what they lose this year, next year or the year after that because their schools were smashed by a recession. Those lost classroom hours and days can’t be relived.
Choosing to raise state income in a slow economy rather than reduce the quality of public education is, therefore, a reasonable gamble. The odds seem better than even that there is more to be gained than lost by “doing the right thing” by our kids.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.

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