••• Education •••

Proposed Lawrence USD 497 budget cuts: “It just don’t add up!”

The Lawrence Board of Education reviewed a proposal to cut and reallocate more than $1.2 million from next year’s budget as a response to the new block grant education funding law. Superintendent Rick Doll said in this USD 497 news release “the new [block grant] system decreases state aid revenue for Lawrence Public Schools…we would lose an estimated $2 million in LOB and capital outlay state aid.”(emphasis added).

“Lose” – that’s a typical, and very misleading, word choice Superintendent Doll used to describe the fiscal impact over the next two years under the new funding law. The fact is USD 497 received a 16% increase, from $3.68 million to $4.27 million, in LOB state aid this year. Capital outlay funding is the same, zero dollars, as it was prior. The $2 million ‘loss’ isn’t an actual reduction, but represents the increase the district anticipated getting – which is a pillar definition of a ‘cut’ when it comes to government spending. According to KSDE figures USD 497 will see an increase from $58.9 million to $61.7 million in state aid (excluding KPERS, special education, and bond and interest payments) with the new funding law. But even that doesn’t tell the whole story.

Two other considerations provide a clearer fiscal picture of USD 497.

Amounts Budgeted vs. Actual Spending

Unknown-2 As the adjoining table exhibits, USD 497 has a history of spending millions less than actually budgeted. Perhaps closer scrutiny of the discrepancy between amounts budgeted and actual expenditures would mitigate the need for spending time and energy looking for places in the budget to cut.

Cash ReserveUnknown

Lawrence USD 497, like most other Kansas districts, has a consistent, healthy cash reserve available. Not only is it vigorous, but as the table shows, it has exploded in the past decade. Superintendent Doll recommended using “contingency reserves” to fund any shortfall for this year if tax collections were not as expected. However, he cautioned that “as the district uses reserves, we deplete funds that may be needed for emergencies or to bridge future funding gaps.” Well…doesn’t this fit his definition of a “future funding gap?” It’s pretty hard to work up a sweat over taking a couple million out of contingencies when there’s consistently over $35 million on hand.

The newsletter made reference to a possible increase in the mill levy to “prevent $2 million in budget cuts for the 2015-16 school year.” This was made by Doll at the April board meeting and parents were sent a letter to that effect.

I wonder if the letter included the particulars that the district spent $8.3 million less than budgeted last year and began this school year with more than $35 million in the bank.Itjustdontaddup2

Trying to comprehend their conduct reminds me of a Looney Tunes cartoon in which the bulldog, Marc Antony, is using an adding machine in an attempt to make sense of the strange behavior of the two mice, Hubie and Bertie, and Claude Cat.

Suppose he was trying to make sense of what USD 497 is proposing.

Marc Antony: Let’s see, the district spends about $8 million less than is budgeted (clicks on adding machine). And they have about $35 million in the bank (clicks on adding machine). They’re getting more money from the state next year (clicks on adding machine). And so they’re cutting out $1.2 million and may ask for $2 million more from the Lawrence taxpayers (clicks on adding machine, pulls up tape and stares in confused disbelief). IT JUST DON’T ADD UP!

I couldn’t have said it better.