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Cut costs Marion County schools almost $150,000

By ELIOT SILL

Staff writer

With a single signature, Governor Sam Brownback stripped $147,598 from the current-year operating budgets of Marion County’s five school districts Friday.

In an effort to overcome the state’s $344 million deficit, Brownback cut $45 million from public schools and state universities, approximately 1.5 percent of the budget for schools. Brownback’s actions mean between $20,000 and $40,000 gone from budgets of local school districts. The money comes out of the budget for the current school year.

“It’s very discouraging, that was money we were counting on,” Goessel Superintendent John Fast said. “It’s like an employer promising you money in your paycheck and then not paying you what they originally agreed upon.”

USD 410 Hillsboro-Durham-Lehigh loses the most money, with $38,414. USD 408 Marion-Florence lost $35,074, Centre lost $31,571, Peabody-Burns lost $21,597, and Goessel lost $20,762, according to figures provided by the Kansas National Education Association.

In announcing the cuts, Brownback said schools received more money than they were projected to this year, calling the move a reduction in the surplus granted, rather than a cut.

He also pointed to expenditures he deemed unnecessary, such as the purchase of a grand piano for a performing arts school.

“Our governor has continued to blame everybody else for a self-inflicted budget problem, and I am having difficulty comprehending how he can blame a projected $600 million shortfall on a $48,000 grand piano for kids at a performing arts magnet school,” USD 410 Superintendent Steve Noble said.

The cuts might not be over, either, as Senate Bill 71 contains provisions that would eliminate current-year funding for schools.

“Senate Bill 71 is unconstitutional,” Fast said. “It is strictly against the attempt to balance the equity for school districts. It makes the poorer districts poorer. It doesn’t make sense.”

School boards met Monday and broached the issue of budgeting for the remainder of the year.

USD 408 Superintendent Lee Leiker pointed out the timing of the cuts makes it harder for districts to save the required amount of money.

“These cuts are on a yearlong budget,” Leiker said. “Over half the opportunities we had to make decisions to cut or save are gone. We have a very short amount of time left to make these savings.”

Leiker said he was confident the cuts would not require a reduction in staffing.

Most superintendents indicated they were prepared to some degree to lose some of their budget.

“We keep our fingers crossed, but we saw this coming the last two years,” Centre Superintendent Brian Smith said. “It’s a lot of money, but we’ve managed on low budgets for years.”

Peabody-Burns Superintendent Ron Traxson said the board made a point to “plan for the worst and hope for the best.”

His district has cut six positions within the past couple years.

“We were in a position to make those salary changes and save some money, so we made the cuts,” he said. “However, you cannot just keep doing that without it affecting curriculum and the quality of education our district can offer.”

Traxson added it’s not just salaries affected, but “all facets of the cost of education.”

Leiker said midyear budget cuts have happened about half the years since he’s been superintendent, but this year’s cuts are likely to be unprecedentedly large. Leiker told board members at Monday’s board of education meeting to expect at least Brownback’s allotment cuts and Senate Bill 71 to cost the district around $90,000.

Leiker said the cuts would affect many different areas of his budget, to try to disperse the impact. One area the districts will try hardest to protect, however, is the quality of education their students receive.

“It’s never good to make campaign promises and not keep them,” Smith said. “We’ll do our best to make sure the cuts don’t affect the kids in the classroom.”

Last modified Feb. 12, 2015

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