Topeka 501 Board approves plan to go to voters to help budget shortfall

TOPEKA (KSNT) - The Topeka Public Schools Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday night to authorize a ballot measure asking voters to increase the portion of property taxes paid into it's Local Option Budget, or LOB.

The 7-0 vote followed three nights of community meetings where they described the shortfalls the district faces because of changes in state funding, and solicited comments from district patrons on what should be cut and what should be spent.

In a written statement following the vote, the district said "The special board meeting to consider a local option budget resolution came about after the topic was raised at community meetings this week. In order to have the issue on the June 16th mail ballot election, a decision had to be made no later than tomorrow (April 30th) or wait for another two years."

Board President C. Patrick Woods said the decision was prompted by the legislatures retreat from the traditional school funding formula to a two year "block grant" plan which would ultimately be replaced by a revised funding formula.

"It's the state's responsibility to guarantee that every student receives a, you know, suitable education," he told KSNT News. Their action "pushes it down on the local level where we know that equality exists so you're gonna have a situation of, you know, amongst a sea of inequity you're gonna have these little islands o excellence where those who can will, and those who can't - don't."

The district says a one percent hike in the LOB would raise about $1 million for the district and would increase property taxes by about $34/year for a person owning a $100,000 home.

Earlier n the evening the board outlined it's problems at a community meeting at Highland Park High School.

Many say they don't agree with raising taxes, but they are willing to pay more in order to prevent cuts to programs. Among those listening were the district's teachers.

"Unfortunately when cuts start t be talked about, fine arts is one of the first things on the block," said Highland Park Band Director Chris Reynolds. "I was very pleased to hear that that is one of the priorities they don't want to cut.

So now a waiting game begins as lawmakers reconvened earlier Wednesday to grapple with a state budget shortfall which grew by nearly $300 million while they were on their mid-term break. The state now faces an approximate $400 million shortfall, and Governor Sam Brownback's most recent addition only has revenue increases for about a quarter of that amount.

The board will file it's ballot measure with the Shawnee County Elections Office Thursday morning.



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