School Board Member Responds To Free Press Question

"The Free Press Question: And many are asking how can the Budget continue to go up if the district enrollment is down, and the Board is cutting teachers, and closing schools?"


Last week you published some figures about the school district budget and you asked a very reasonable question: "... how can the Budget continue to go up if the district enrollment is down, and the Board is cutting teachers, and closing schools?" The short answer is this: the parts of the budget that are sensitive to the numbers of kids and teachers did go down; the parts that are not sensitive went up. The net result is that we are up about $400,000 out of $55 million - less than 1%.  I'll give the main details in the next few paragraphs.


The information I'm using is coming from section 10 of our budget book, which the Legislative Post Audit commended: "The Manhattan district's local budget provided excellent down-to-earth explanations of the budgetary process, and straightforward information about the current and historic mill levies. It also clearly explained the reasons why some budgeted figures were higher or lower than might be expected." As you pointed out last week, this year's published budget includes some federal funds that were not included in last year's published budget so I'll deal with them separately at the end. Also, I'll follow your advice from our conversation and not split out "transfers"; they do cause some double counting, but for the purpose of comparing one year with the next it is just an extra layer of complexity that we don't need. Here goes.


The three big funds - General Fund, LOB and Special Ed, the ones we use to operate schools and pay classroom teachers - these funds were down by over $100,000. We have closed two buildings and have fewer teachers and students; salaries and health insurance and inflation are up; the result is that these three funds are slightly lower than last year. The other funds aimed at K-12 students (kindergarten through high school) are up nearly $130,000 net. The biggest increase is in transportation (up nearly $150,000) because we are buying two new buses and trading in ten old ones. We have delayed doing this for four years, I think, and we need to do it now. Overall the K-12 funds are up about $20,000 out of over $40 million.


We have over $5 million in post-secondary funds, mainly MATC. These are not much affected by declining enrollment. They are up by just over $220,000, thanks mainly to state and local grants, plus the higher tuition and fees we are charging at MATC. The other big funds, Bond and Interest and Capital Outlay, are also not affected much by declining enrollment. They are up just over $120,000 out of nearly $5 million thanks to a state grant.


Now we come to the federal funds. Some federal dollars are included in other funds. Food Service gets around $700,000 from that source. This year the published budget includes for the first time the federal dollars that are not counted in other places. This amounts to $3.7 million.


Now to "the bottom line". Our published budget authority is $58.8 million; less the federal funds it is $55.1 million. Last year the published budget authority, also excluding federal funds, was $54.7 million. Thus the budget is up about $400,000 out of $55 million. This is because those funds that are mainly affected by declining enrollment are down a bit, while those that are not affected are up. This is the answer to the reasonable question you asked last week.


Now an opinion. It would be easy to cut the budget: tell teachers not to apply for federal grants. We could save around $3.5 million that way. Don't charge tuition or fees at MATC. We could save around half a million there. Don't accept Yes! Funds for transportation or before/after school programs. Few hundred thousand there. None of this would change our taxes. We could pay just as much for a poorer program. There is a lot that we cannot afford, but we are leveraging our local money pretty darn well. Right now we run a Cadillac program on a Taurus budget (of local tax dollars); we could run an Escort or worse program for the same tax amount if the right goal is to "cut the bottom line". That is not my goal. My goal is a first-rate educational system for Manhattan and Ogden. That is what is in the best interest of the whole community.


* Larry Weaver

* 1009 Karla Lane / Manhattan, KS 66502

* 539-3176