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Education economic forecast not sunny
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In other action, the USD 428 School Board:

• Authorized the administration to contract with C.V. Cale of Great Bend to replace two of the large western-facing windows at Washington Early Education Center, in the part of the building that will house the Barton County Cooperative of Special Services come next spring. The new windows, at a cost of nearly $20,000, will be smaller and more energy efficient than the old ones, installed when that wing of the building was built in the 1950s. Special Services is moving from the current Shady Grove location west of Great Bend to Washington.

• Authorized the administration to pursue replacing three doors at the old Great Bend High School field house, three at Riley Elementary and one at Washington. C.V. Cale will be contacted, however, if the price comes in too high, the board will be asked to seek bids for the project.

• Accepted a $300 donation from the Midwest Energy Community Fund that will pay for ZoomText express computer programs for visually impaired students. The programs provide screen magnification.

• Accepted the resignation of Tamara Rabenseifner, high school math teacher as of Dec. 22. To get out of her contract at the end of the first semester, she had to pay $1,000 in "liquidated damages."

• Set a special meeting for 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 29, to conduct Superintendent Tom Vernon’s evaluation.

• Reappointed Mary Misegadis to a second term as one of the district’s two representatives on the Great Bend Recreation Commission Board. Dianna Dawson is the district’s other rep, but her term was not up.

• Approved applying for the slightly over $1 million in federal Title VI B "flow-through" money that helps fund special education.

• Approved applying for the federal E-Rate funds. This money pays for up to 90 percent of a school district’s cost for telecommunications expenses. In USD 428 this year, it amounts to $106,000, or a 76 percent discount. The only condition is that the money saved be used to purchase technology upgrades.

If Unified School District 428 Superintendent Tom Vernon had been a weatherman, he would have told his School Board Monday night, they might need umbrellas. District taxpayers may want to break out some goloshes as well.

He gave an economic forecast for the current and the next school year when the board met at the District Education Center. "We’re very concerned. We’re going to inform our principals not to ask for anything more." In fact, the administration seek suggestions for spending cuts.

Kansas Department of Education Deputy Commissioner Dale Dennis said the school funding formula is going to be under funded by about $50 million. He was reporting on a recent meeting of the Legislative Educational Planning Committee.

Why? "There have been lower assessed valuations statewide," Vernon said. In the southwest, oil and gas values are the concern, and in the northeast, its been hits to industry as one mill yields less tax revenue than it once did. As a side note, valuations in Barton County have remained steady, if not increased.

Other reasons include more children qualifying for at-risk funds due to the downturn in the economy, increased enrollment statewide and a potential $75 cut in the base state aid per pupil (this would mean a $360,000 reduction in state aid for USD 428).

Looking ahead, "legislative research projects a deficit of $492 million for the 2011-12 fiscal year," Vernon said. Federal stimulus funds will dry up, Governor-elect Sam Brownback has promised a spending freeze, any many of the newly elected legislators have promised no tax increases.

This would bring about a potential $330 cut in the per-student funds, or a decrease of $1.58 million for Great Bend. This would be in addition to the $75 cut that could go into effect this school year.

To put this in prospective, the base aid for this year is $4,012. If the $75 rescission comes to pass, it would be $3,937. Minus the projected $330 cut, it would be $3,607, very near the 1992 total of $3,600. That was the year the current formula was put into place.

The total state budget is around $6 billion and public education makes up about half of that.

"The sluggish economy will add to the budget crisis," Vernon said. Even events in other cities, such as the possible move of Hawker-Beechcraft out of Wichita, could negatively impact the situation.

If this comes to pass, districts would have to either resort to the only revenue option they have (raise local property taxes) or cut spending. On average, the $492 million shortfall would mean an 8.2 mill increase in property taxes across the state. Some districts would be lower and some higher.

Now, the state limits the amount of property tax a district can levy at 20 mills. There is talk of increasing that.

"In a good year, if the formula was under funded, the Department of Education would just go to the Legislature and ask for a supplemental appropriation," Vernon said. "That’s not going to happen this year."