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School Districts Across Kansas Ask State For $8.4 Million In 'Extraordinary Needs' Funds

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Schools around Kansas are just a couple of weeks from opening for the new school year, but about three dozen districts say they need more state aid and have applied for extraordinary needs funding.

In all, 37 districts are asking for about $8.4 million from the state Board of Education. There is about $15 million in the pool. All districts contribute a small portion of their state aid to the pool.

Two of the biggest requests come from the two of the smaller districts in this area: Spring Hill in Johnson County and Basehor-Linwood in Leavenworth County. 

In fact, Spring Hill, tucked into the southwest corner of Johnson County, is asking for the most of any district in Kansas, $941,440. Superintendent Wayne Burke says he's asking for exactly how more he's spending this year compared to last.

The district is growing and has hired six more teachers, added two bus routes and bought new computers for high school and middle school students, Burke says. Right now he doesn't know how he'll pay for all that. "This is why superintendents have gray hair and heart problems," he says.

Burke also says it feels like Spring Hill is being penalized for growing. The state wants more people to move into Kansas but that means more kids and a higher education cost.

“For us, we feel like we’ve done a good job of promoting our district and having people moving into our district and want to come here,” he says. "It's discouraging."

To put the Spring Hill request in perspective, the tiny Hugoton district in southwest Kansas is asking for $880,000 and Wichita, the state's biggest, is asking for $686,510. There are few guidelines for what district can request.

But right on the heels of those requests is one for $479,102 from Basehor-Linwood. Superintendent David Howard says he's in the same predicament as Spring Hill, a growing district and no additional money to pay for new teachers and additional bus routes.

Howard says if he doesn't get his extraordinary needs request he'll be forced to tap into savings to keep class sizes down and programs from being cut. "It's extremely difficult."

There is a big change this year in the way extraordinary needs requests are handled.

Last year the state Finance Council, chaired by the Governor and made up of Legislative leaders, made the decisions. This year the task has been handed to the state Board of Education.

"I do like this process better than last year," says Howard. "We at least have people who know something up there."

Even though there's $15 million in the fund right now there is a major complication — how much the state will get when it sells the Bioscience Authority.

To come up with enough money to satisfy the state Supreme Court on equitably funding public schools, lawmakers decide to use $13 million of the $25 million they hope to get from the sale.

But if the sale fails to fetch that much, the difference will be make up with extraordinary needs money.

The state Board of Education is expect to make its decision Thursday during a conference call but it may be months before officials know how much the Bioscience Authority will sell for.

Sam Zeff is co-host of the political podcast Statehouse Blend and covers education for KCUR, which is a partner in a statewide collaboration covering elections in Kansas. Follow Sam on Twitter @SamZeff.

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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