Abilene Board of Education members approved a budget of $26,838,122 for the 2019-20 school year during a special meeting Monday morning.
The budget is funded by a 52.270 mill levy, 1.24 mills higher than last year when the levy was at 51.032. Based on the 52 mills, the owner of a $100,000 home will pay an extra $14.24 in taxes, said Superintendent Greg Brown.
A mill is equal to $1 in tax for every $1,000 of assessed valuation.
One member of the public, Donneta Felbush of rural Abilene, attended the budget hearing and expressed concern with the increase.
“At some point, some entity, someone has to step up to the plate and say ‘enough is enough; we’ll do with what we have,’” Felbush told the board. “More money, more bells and whistles doesn’t necessarily equate to a better education.”
While newspaper stories often show the tax increase for residential homeowners when the mill levy goes up, Felbush said ag producers see increases on hundreds of acres of farmland.
That equals huge increases and with the added increase of assessed valuation on property, farmers get a “double whammy,” she said.
“Young farmers are especially feeling the stress of depressed grain prices and rising expenses and they don’t need more property tax,” Felbush added.
“Agriculture is paramount to the success of Dickinson County and our farmers in Dickinson County need a break,” she explained. “I hope for the county and farmers, you’ll find a way to provide one for them.”
Board Vice President Randy Gassman said that last year the board had that same discussion and decreased the mill levy.
“We got criticized by the teaching community when we lowered our levy and didn’t go after all the dollars we could,” Gassman said. “I think we tow a tough line here where our number one priority is the kids, the teachers think it’s them and the community wants us to be that person that will be efficient with funds and be a good steward of the dollars here.”
Gassman, who is an accountant, said he prepares budgets for cities and counties and always tells commissioners that the public never remembers the year taxes go down, but always remembers the year they go up.
Board Member Jeff Bathurst, who is a farmer, said it doesn’t make a “bit of sense” how farmers are taxed when compared to the income being produced from that land. However, comparatively, Kansas farmers have a better situation than those in some other states, he said.
The biggest part of every Kansas school district’s budget is the 20-mill general fund set by the state and based on each district’s headcount. The Kansas Legislature voted to increase state aid for the 2019-20 school year to $4,436 per pupil, a five percent increase over last year.
That amount will increase over the next few years until the year 2024 when it will follow the consumer price index, Brown noted.
“Headcount is pretty important for our district this year,” Brown said. “We’re working from a starting point of 1,504.2 — that’s fulltime enrollment.”
He said the majority of Abilene’s budget goes toward instructional efforts for students. He takes issue with a statement from the Kansas Policy Institute that stated most school districts are more interested in buying “new suburbans than instructional efforts,” Brown said.
He showed board members a graphic that exemplifies the portion of the budget which goes toward instruction.
“It shows we are increasing our instructional efforts with this budget,” Brown said. “I don’t think there’s anything to apologize for what we’re doing in our school system.”
The approved budget also includes the supplementary general fund or local option budget, capital outlay and bond and interest.
Brown said the bond and interest mill rate may decrease a little, but was unsure whether that would happen this year or sometime later.
“Interest rates are very good and we’re going to have a meeting with (bond counsel) Piper-Jaffrey Tuesday,” Brown said. Representatives from that company will talk about adjusting and refinancing the debt to save some interest and cut three years off the district’s bond issue repayment.
Gassman commented that school budgets are confusing and unlike other entity’s budgets. Because most of the budget is set by the state, school boards only have two places they can cut — the local option budget and capital outlay.
“The point being we could choose to lower the LOB and capital outlay, but we’d be walking away from some matching funds the state will give us on both of those,” Gassman said. “I don’t want to give up any of those funds.”
The board has indicated they plan to use money from capital outlay to help finance facility improvements that were left undone during the 2014 bond issue.
Contact Kathy Hageman at email@example.com.