Finances were a concern at the forum for Newton School board candidates Thursday, held at the Newton library.
?Six candidates running for three positions were asked about their attitudes about state funding of education — and about taxes. Incumbents are Barbara Bunting, Renee Erickson and Randy Zohn. Challengers are Chris Ross, Colby Roberson and Dick Koontz.?
Newton schools have been part of a lawsuit that has been going on for years against the state over school funding. Courts have ruled for the schools twice.?
Koontz said he favored continuing to spend money on the lawsuit. He said he is not in favor of lawsuits in general, but he favors it in this case.?
Roberson said he does not believe the issue belongs in the courts, but should be dealt with by the Legislature.Ross said without proper education, the community will pay more in the long run when people go through the schools and cannot get a job. He said he would support efforts to keep funding.
Zohn said he was against the lawsuit at first, but "when I saw them cutting state taxes for funding and ignoring the Supreme court, I thought it was ridiculous."?
He said he ended up voting for continuing to support the lawsuit.?
Bunting said the legislature has underfunded its own cost studies.?
"The constitution says to continue to improve education. It does not say suitable, but enough funding for a suitable education," Bunting said.?
Erickson said she does not support the lawsuit because the money spent on that could be going to educate children now. If the schools win the legal case, all the districts will get the benefits. She said $271,000 has been spent on the lawsuit. Not all of that was from Newton.?
They were asked how they could work more with businesses to make up for budget shortfall. All of the candidates said businesses have been supportive and they would like to encourage that relationship.?
Candidates were also asked what their attitude would be about taxes if the state does not provide enough money.?
Zohn said the state has painted schools into a corner to where they might have to raise taxes — even though they do not want to.?
"People need to realize that we are in the position we are in because of who has been voted into Topeka. You either want us to cut back on schools or raise local taxes. You cannot have it both ways," Zohn said.?
Ross said schools would continue to face financial struggles, but he said the impact of higher taxes would also be bad. He said people cannot afford more taxes so they would have to find some other source of funding.?
Roberson said he does not want to raise taxes.?
"We have to take care of the kids and take care of teachers. I would like to understand how the state funding works," he said. He also questioned whether money is distributed equally across the state.?
Koontz said state funding has declined, so the question is where to find funds.?
"The mission of the district is to meet the needs of all students. We have to do what we have to do to accomplish that," he said.?
Erickson said she too does not want to raise taxes. She believes there are other things that can be considered. The district recently refinanced some bonds that to save money, and they could do more of that. She noted that school spending per pupil is up five percent.?
Bunting said it does not look like the state is going to increase funding over the next two years.