Block grants for schools may mean school cuts

USD 259 Schools Superintendent

WICHITA, Kansas – Cut out the entire administration from Wichita schools, USD 259, and you’ve got less than 2 percent of the 259 budget.

“I keep hearing, Wichita has too much in the way of administration,” says 259 Superintendent John Allison. ” We cut 35 percent of the administration here, everybody is wearing multiple hats.”

In an hour-long KSN interview with John Allison, the superintendent shared concerns about block grant funding for schools.

The block grant is described as a box of money. For the next two years, schools will only get what is in the box. No more. No less.

“And (it) doesn’t give us any additional revenue for additional students,” says Allison, who points out the district could get a couple hundred new students next year. “And we have grown several hundred students a year, or we have more ESOL and special needs students.”

Lawmakers say the block of money for schools will be in play for two years while they hammer out a new school finance system.

Lawmakers already say they will have a tough time coming to agreement on exactly what that school finance plan will look like. They also don’t agree on what they are hearing from school leaders.

“I’ve heard from many school districts that like the block grant plan,” says Republican Senate member Michael O’Donnell of Wichita. “In full disclosure, I’ve heard from more (school districts) that don’t like the block grant plan.”

“I’ve not heard of one school that likes this block grant,” says Democrat House member Jim Ward of Wichita.

Ward also says he wonders if all lawmakers will be included in the process.

“This idea that you can run a school finance formula in the back room and then run it through the legislature in a week has got to stop,” says Ward. “We have to do the job of school finance formula seriously, and it’s better to get it right than to get it done fast.”

Allison says schools are not asking for too much as some lawmakers have insinuated, or flat out said during this lawmaker session in Topeka.

KSN asked Allison if a flat budget over the next two years would mean cuts in the classroom or if there is an abundance of money.

“You know, you hope you never get to that point (of cutting in the classroom), but when you are talking millions of dollars, there is only so much that you can reduce,” explains Allison. “And I always hear it’s administrators, and I could close this (administration) building and the total salaries here at one and a half to two percent of the district budget, it doesn’t get us, it doesn’t make a dent.”

Allison pointed out that lawmakers have reclassified KPERS as classroom funding. KPERS is money that teachers pay into, along with funding from the state for the teacher retirement system.

“With a keystroke, they say they’ve put the money into school finance, and then with another keystroke (in the same day) they take that money out and it’s gone (into KPERS) and we never see it,” said Allison. “It’s disingenuous to say those dollars are for the students and they are of any use to us to be able to provide for those students. I think it’s great that KPERS funds are being upgraded, it’s great. But, to couch KPERS as funding for students, that is disingenuous.”

Lawmakers say they will not have a plan for how schools will be funded yet, beyond that block of money provided to schools for the next two years.

Lawmakers are expected to put together a plan next year and the year after that.

“As much as we talk about it, I don’t think the community understand yet what that ripple effect is going to be,” says Allison. And what the implications are going to be.”



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