Many Kansas Schools Bemoan Block Grants

May 10, 2015

Louisburg Middle School in Louisburg, Kansas.
Credit Louisburg USD 416

Usually by this time of year school districts in Kansas know how much money they’re going to get for next year and they can spend the summer working on a detailed budget.

This is not any year.

The legislature is nowhere near passing a budget and last week a court held a hearing on a lawsuit that may toss out what lawmakers do anyway.

At that hearing Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis, perhaps the leading expert on school finance in Kansas, testified that all school districts will lose some funding under block grants.

This leaves many Kansas districts in a lurch, including Louisburg, a district serving about 1,800 south on 69 Highway in Miami County.

We spoke to Superintendent Brian Biermann, in his first year as a superintendent, about the uncertainty and how the new block grant funding is effecting his district.

What's the biggest concern for you about block grant funding?

"The major for Louisburg, and I believe for many districts with the block grant because of the reduction of state aid, would be the potential that the mill rates for out local school districts are going to have to increase at the local level. And no one wants to do that. We want to be mindful of our taxpayers especially here in Louisburg. Our local community supports us a great deal."

So am I hearing you say that you're going to be able to get by without laying off teachers, without cutting programs because you've got room to raise the mill levy enough to keep yourself whole?

"Yes. So as we set the budget and look at that next year we're going to be mindful of a drastic hike. You know, local option supports transportation, technology, school supplies, text books, uniforms, utilities. Really the essentials, the backbone of school funding."

But it's fair to say that the next couple of years as you work through these block grants, and nobody knows what comes after that, it's going to be a little tight down there?

"It's been tight. We currently have a contingency fund, which in schools is like a savings account, of $153,466. That's very low. It probably should be three or four times that high. If we had a couple of back-to-back things go wrong. Yes we have insurance but many districts, Louisburg as well, have raised the deductibles to keep the premiums from going up. We have to pay $50,000 out of pocket to even have an insurance claim. Well, $50,000 is one-third of my contingency if something bad happens. And our good folks who work for us, from teachers to support staff to administrators, going into next year they haven't had a raise in four years. So there's some troubling things that, yes, keep me up at night and making me lose my hair quicker than I want to."