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The Kansan - Newton, KS
  •   Kicker: @Head KICKER:Schools @Head BOLD 30:Local schools struggle with state budget cuts @Head DECK:    

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  •  @Byline:By James Jordan
    Newton Kansan
    @Body type J: While state officials say they are keeping school funding at the same level, by not changing the amount schools receive per student, local school officials say they are still getting less money from the state.
    The overall funding per pupil may stay the same, but the local option budget and a few other things, are causing local schools to tighten their belts even more.
    @Body type INTRO:
    For a few years now districts have had to cut back, and so far they have cut programs that have not had a direct impact on students. Newton, for example, cut out its public relations person and saved some money there. When teachers leave, they try to find a way to not replace the person.
    John Fast, superintendent at Goessel, said they cut one position from its budget for next year, and are looking for ways to cut even more.
    He said they are now to the point that cuts may start impacting the education students receive.
    His district "may have to look at" raising property taxes this year to make ends meet.
    "It is very unfortuante. But it is already affecting students. We have reduced travel, we won't have summer school, and we have cut tutoring in the schools. Since 2008 salaries have been locked in, with one very small increase with no cost of living increases," he said.
    Newton schools are expecting to have to cut $750,000 from their budget which is in the process of being put together now. The problem is the local option budget, which the state has been matching to some extent. That may be going away, leaving schools with less money.
    Other public schools in Harvey County are in the same boat.
    They say increasing insurance premiums because of the Affordable Care Act is also cutting into their budgets. Hesston expects a $70,000 increase in expenses there, while Halstead expects $50,000, and Goessel about $20,000.
    Vocational education has helped some though. There are some increases in funding available for schools to expand vocational education. At Hesston, Superintendent Paul Becker said his schools are expanding their programs in this area, and should be getting more money - about $26,000 - from the state as a result.
    But Hesston has a big senior class, and when they are gone they expect enroliment to go down some, and that will decrease their money from the state.
    "Right now we will be ok. We hope to not raise taxes," he said.
    Local officials have said there is a shift in taxes to pay for schools, from the state to the local level. While your income tax may go down, locals school boards are left with less money as a result. Their options are to either cut more programs or raise property taxes.
    Page 2 of 2 - Halstead Superintencent Thomas Alstrom said cuts to the Local Option Budget and funding for special education has had an impact.
    They too have expanded the vocational programs.
    "But that will be gone soon," he said.
    Alstrom said "no one has been unscathed," by the state's continually cutting funding and pushing the burden to the local tax payer.
    "The state and local taxes are the only sources we have. We have been conservative," he said, adding that while they have not raised taxes, they may have to at some point.
    Fast said Goessel is even more dependent on property taxes than most districts because it has primarily residential and farming land. There is very little industry or other businesses to pay taxes to support the schools, so more burden is put on local taxpayers.
    Goessel also recently passed a bond issue to make major school improvements, so residents there will see a property tax increase to pay for that regardless.
    While state officials point to reductions in income tax, and say they are cutting taxes, the result is that schools get less money from the state.
    Local officials say they may not have many options other than raising property taxes to offset the difference.
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