Politics & Government

Budget head: School funding logistics a challenge

State budget director Shawn Sullivan said he’s confident legislative leaders will make wise decisions Monday about which school districts will get emergency funding.

But he said it will be a challenging task. More than three dozen school districts seek more money than is available in a state fund for extraordinary funding needs.

“The logistics of trying to deal with all of (the requests) in one day and get the information needed is going to be difficult,” Sullivan said Friday in Wichita.

Thirty-eight districts, including Wichita, have filed applications seeking about $15 million in additional aid under an education funding law enacted this year that has been criticized by many superintendents.

The law set aside $12.3 million to address extraordinary needs during the current school year. It leaves decisions about what districts receive to the State Finance Council, which is made up of Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and the top eight leaders of the GOP-dominated Legislature. They plan to meet Monday at the Statehouse to review the applications.

Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, and the GOP chairmen of both chambers’ budget committees sent a letter this week to superintendents of the districts seeking more money.

They asked each superintendent to document five examples of how that district had adopted innovative strategies during the past three years to improve classroom performance. Documents were due by close of business Friday.

Rep. Ron Ryckman Jr., an Olathe Republican and chairman of the House budget committee, said the process could help provide good ideas for saving tax dollars.

Sullivan said he wasn’t involved in the letter.

At least two school superintendents have responded to lawmakers’ request to outline how they’re saving money.

Superintendent Robert Shannon, the top administrator in the Manhattan-Ogden district, said the district was justified in making an appeal for $400,000 to address enrollment growth after cutting cash reserves, raising property taxes and slicing expenditures for personnel and supplies by $1 million, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

Jeff Bollinger, the superintendent in Satanta in southwest Kansas, says the district had to respond to a steep drop in the property valuations, which affects school funding, by requesting $485,000. He said that district is saving money by using iPads rather than traditional textbooks for students in sixth through 12th grades to study language arts, science and social studies.

“The digital materials are a far greater cost savings than printed,” he said.

The Wichita school district would not release its response to The Eagle on Friday, saying it wanted the council to see it first.

Sullivan said school districts who lost property tax revenue could benefit from the Monday meeting.

“They would not have gotten any money in the old (school funding) formula,” he said. “So any money they get on Monday will be more than they’ll have gotten in (recent history).”

Sullivan spoke at a luncheon at the Wichita Pachyderm Club, a local Republican group, on Friday. His presentation defended the budget that was passed in June after a 113-day legislative session.

“The best way to affect spending is through education, Medicaid and particular human services,” he told the audience.

Contributing: Associated Press and Suzanne Perez Tobias of the Eagle

Reach Daniel Salazar at 316-269-6791 or dsalazar@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @imdanielsalazar.