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State court ruling could help USD 235

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

UNIONTOWN -- On Friday, a Shawnee County District court three-judge panel ruled that funding of Kansas schools is unconstitutionally low. Attorney General Derek Schmidt has filed an appeal to that decision with the Kansas Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, USD 235 Superintendent Randy Rockhold discussed what it would mean to his district if the decision is upheld.

Rockhold said it would translate into more than $635,000 for his district per year into the general fund and almost $182,000 per year into the Local Option Budget. Current funding of Kansas schools is at $3,838 per student. The court decision would raise that to $4,492 per student.

"That's a pretty substantial increase that would allow us to do some of the things we need to do," Rockhold said.

He said those extra funds could help with roof and heating and cooling issues. Otherwise, those projects would probably not be funded until the district's bond is paid off in 2018-2019, Rockhold said.

He also shared his five-year budget outlay with the board, which projects ending balances for each school year through 2017-2018. For 2012-2013, USD 235 projects about $818,000; for 2013-2014, about $757,000; for 2014-2015, about $628,000; for 2015-2016, about $569,000; for 2016-2017, about $478,000; and for 2017-2018, $377,000.

He said it was important to keep a minimum of $330,000 because of the one-month lag in which the district receives state funding. That is also the approximate amount of one month's worth of payroll for the district. Rockhold said USD 235 has worked hard to build its cash reserves knowing the state's financial situation.

"We wouldn't have to have these substantial balances if the state would pay on time, but that isn't the case," Rockhold said.

Rockhold also shared information on mill levies versus assessed values per pupil in Uniontown as compared to other schools across the state.

"Those are the two components that tell you whether you are being good stewards of the taxpayers' money," Rockhold said. "If you have both a low mill rate and a low assessed value, then you are getting a pretty good return on your investment."

Rockhold said in addition to having competitive salaries, high achievement and good facilities, USD 235 also has a very low mill rate (44.1) and a very low assessed value per pupil ($29,324).

"Only Sedgwick, Galena, Junction City, Cherryvale, Baxter Springs and Mayetta have lower assessed value, so we are very poor," Rockhold said.

He added that all those schools have a substantially higher mill rate than Uniontown.

Fort Scott also has a comparatively low mill rate (43.972) and low assessed value per pupil ($41,769.00), he said.

"There's no way anybody in Uniontown or Fort Scott could claim their districts are not being fiscally responsible," Rockhold said. "People in our district should feel good about what they are getting for their tax dollars."

Rockhold said he has budgeted for Smart boards with 78-inch screens and computers and will ask the board to approve that at its February meeting.

He said he is currently budgeting $26,830 for the equipment, with funds coming from the general fund ($7,300), LOB ($8,000), REAP grants ($7,030), cookie dough sales ($4,000) and a private gift ($500).

"We are going to ask the board to purchase two boards for the sixth grade, two for the fifth grade, one for the fourth grade, two for the third grade and two for the first grade, because those are the teachers that have requested it," Rockhold said. "In the future, we will do seven additional for the elementary school."

He added that six additional boards will be purchased for Uniontown Junior High and Uniontown High School with future plans for nine additional boards at UHS and seven additional boards at West Bourbon Elementary under his plan.

He said the 15 initial boards should be installed by the end of this school year.

Rockhold said there also is a "Modified Tech Plan" to replace computers throughout the district.

"We have a lot of technology, but our technology is aging," Rockhold said.

He said there are funds ($128,000) available to replace all UHS computers and the sixth-grade lab in 2013 (133 computers), funds for an additional 114 computers in 2014 $109,005 and 19 more in 2015 ($18,300).

Rockhold said he will likely wait until May to ask the board to approve the purchases, because of the current financial issues with the state.

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