- Associated Press - Sunday, January 4, 2015

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A Kansas judicial panel has slammed the state’s increasing reliance on the use of local money to supplement state funding of public schools.

In finding last week that the state needs to boost funding for students, the three Shawnee County District Court judges also criticized the so-called local option budget, which allows districts to raise more money locally than the state provides, the Topeka Capital-Journal (https://bit.ly/1zMw898) reported.

All districts have a local option budget, according to the newspaper, with funds usually raised through property taxes. For most school districts, the LOB is about one-third of the size of the district’s main fund, its general fund.

Though LOBs can be used for optional school enhancements, as base state aid to students has fallen in the past few years, an increasing number of districts, such as Shawnee Heights, began to use their LOB to pay for basic operating costs, a practice the court found dangerous.

“The LOB portion of the Kansas school finance formula is not so sufficiently designed today, nor was it structurally originally intended, to stand as a failsafe funding mechanism that would assure each and every Kansas K-12 student the education our Kansas constitution commands and is designed to ensure,” the judges wrote.

Marty Stessman, superintendent of Shawnee Heights Unified School District 450, said his district uses LOB dollars for basic costs.

“I think way back in the beginning when it started, it was for optional purposes - for things above and beyond what the state was going to fund,” he said, adding that the state education department had even warned superintendents against using LOB dollars for salaries, in case the funding went away. “Because it truly was optional.”

LOBs are the second-largest source of daily operating costs, the newspaper reported.

The Legislature’s contention that LOB funds should count toward adequate funding levels wasn’t warmly received by the judges. While the judges acknowledge that LOB could play a role, they faulted the Legislature for not providing a fail-safe funding mechanism.

The state is expected to appeal the panel’s decision to the Kansas Supreme Court. Attorney General Derek Schmidt said last week that his office was evaluating all of its options.

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Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, https://www.cjonline.com

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