Garden City USD 457 is looking to maintain a flat mill levy for the 2017-18 school year on a budget with nearly $4.4 million more than last year.

Prior to Wednesday’s USD 457 Board of Education meeting, KJ Knoll, USD 457 financial officer, said the district would maintain a 48.80 mill levy — the same as last year — and the general fund budget would be $52,100,861, or $4,401,442 more than in 2017.

“I don’t know that we can continue to do that in future years, but our goal will be to try to do that as long as we can,” Knoll said.

With the proposed budget, the district will receive $16,676,760 in local option budget dollars, or a near $700,000 increase, Knoll said. A breakdown in the overall mill levy includes 20 mills for the general fund, about 15 for the LOB, 8 will be for the capital outlay fund and about 6 will be for bonds and interest.

The district's assessed valuation for 2018 is $348,049,387 — an increase from last year’s 326,760,271. As an example, the owner of a $150,000 home would pay about $841 in property taxes to the district.

Knoll noted that typically at this time of year, USD 457 would hold its budget hearing, but because of the school finance uncertainty, the process was delayed.

In March, the Kansas Supreme Court said Kansas failed to ensure adequate funding for public schools, and lawmakers were given a June 30 deadline to come up with a formula deemed adequate in order for schools not to close. The Supreme Court ruled that the block grant system was unconstitutional and denied academically low-achieving students an appropriate education.

In June, lawmakers settled on a bill that would reinstate a per-pupil funding formula. The formula is similar to one that was repealed in 2015 and would provide nearly $293 million in new school funding over the next two years, with a majority of the increase going toward the 25 percent of students currently performing under grade level in math and reading.

Knoll said she received budget forms from the state on July 28, and the district created the budget based on the proposed formula.

“It was definitely more hectic (preparing the budget later than usual), but I’ve learned with school finance, you just roll with whatever comes at you and that’s what we do,” Knoll said before Wednesday’s meeting. “I think KSDE does a wonderful job of preparing us for what’s coming. We did a lot of planning prior to having those budget forms released, so that when they were released, I kind of had a direction with the way the board wanted me to go in preparing the budget.”

During Wednesday’s meeting, Knoll said the district’s three priorities were considered when planning the budget. They include investments to attract and retain the best possible staff, evidence and researched-based programs to improve student outcomes, and reduction of local property taxes.

“As we receive additional state dollars, our hope is you can reduce the local burden on taxpayers,” Knoll said. “In a perfect world, as the amount of money needed rises and the amount of money received from the state is the same, then you can reduce that (property taxes).”

Before Wednesday’s meeting, USD 457 Superintendent Steve Karlin said the district could not discuss specifically how the additional funding will be used as negotiations are still being conducted.

“We’re pleased that we’re able to hold the mill levy flat and not provide an increased burden to local taxpayers,” Karlin said before Wednesday’s meeting. “KJ’s done a fantastic job. Her time frame has been abbreviated due to circumstances beyond her control. … We certainly feel better about the challenges we have here than what we had in the block grant days, and we appreciate the work that was done in Topeka to kind of turn us in the right direction.”

On Monday, during the board’s next regularly scheduled meeting, the board will be asked to approve the budget for publication in The Garden City Telegram. The board will then schedule a public hearing on the budget.

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