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Kansas City, Kansas, Schools Awarded Less Than Half Of What They Requested In Extra Aid

Sam Zeff

Area school districts seeking additional state aid due to increased enrollment took a beating from the State Finance Council Monday.

Five area districts applied for money from the Extraordinary Needs Fund, a pool of money the Legislature created when it approved block grant funding last session.

But two walked away with no additional state aid. Olathe asked for $458,501 and got zero. Bonner Springs requested $155,094 and also got nothing.

Olathe Superintendent Marlin Berry says the district will not lay off any more employees and will probably dip into reserves to pay for the additional 115 students in the district. "All these kids will have a place in class and our teachers will step up and we'll educate them and do the very best that we can," Berry says.

Olathe has already laid off about 80 people and cut back on some classroom programs.

Kansas City, Kansas, asked for about $2.1 million to cover the cost of 500 more students. The Finance Council approved additional aid of $407,548.

Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR
KCK Superintendent Cynthia Lane makes her case before the State Finance Council

Superintendent Cynthia Lane says she doesn't know where she's going to find the money. “We certainly can’t say we’re not going to touch the classroom because everything we’ve been doing the last 24 months has impacted kids and teachers.” The district has also laid off workers after the Legislature passed the block grant funding.

Nobody knew how the State Finance Council, chaired by Gov. Sam Brownback and dominated by conservative Republican lawmakers, would decide how to dole out the Extraordinary Needs money. There was a pool of $12.3 million and requests for $15 million. Districts could apply if they had an extraordinary increase in enrollment or a big loss in property valuation. In all, the council granted about $6 million in extra aid to the 38 districts that applied.

When the hearing began, none of the school district representatives in the Old Supreme Court room in the Capitol knew that Budget Director Shawn Sullivan had come up with a formula to distribute the money. District officials said they weren't consulted and were surprised when Sullivan began explaining his plan to the Council.

Brownback says the Council has never had this kind of fund before and was pleased with how the money was distributed. "This was the first time we were trying to determine that and it's like, well, let's look at this and determine what's the best route to go and maybe as you go forward in the future you look and say, well, that was too high or too low."

The two Democrats on the Council tried to increase the grants, but failed. House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs from KCK says politics played a role in who got what and said the old school formula worked just fine. "We're operating under a block grant formula that denies opportunity. Under the old formula it met the needs of those communities with extraordinary needs that we heard in here today."

Two area districts did come away with additional state aid. Spring Hill will get an extra $428,799. It asked for $617,985. Piper received $88,272 of the $239,218 it requested.

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
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