- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 5, 2015

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Gov. Sam Brownback and legislative leaders agreed Tuesday to give roughly half a million dollars in additional funding to five school districts hit hard by recent policy changes and unforeseen expenses.

Eight districts made requests totaling about $1.1 million, claiming that enrollment fluctuations and rising costs would cause them to fall short under the “block grant” reform Brownback signed into law in March. The State Finance Council, comprised of the Republican governor and leaders from each chamber, granted $478,016 in additional funding to five of the districts.

The block grant legislation cut $51 million that school districts had been expecting for the fiscal year ending June 30 and will give districts fixed funding levels for the next two years while the Legislature devises a new funding formula.

Beverly Mortimer, superintendent of the Concordia school district, received $119,000 of the $326,388 she requested for her district and said after the meeting, that it wasn’t easy to come ask for more money, but “you just swallow your pride and you step up for your district and get what you can for them.”

Concordia, located in central Kansas about 35 miles from the Nebraska border, made headlines in April as one of several districts to announce it would close its school year early due to funding shortfalls. The district has already made a number of changes to cut spending and some staff members donated portions of their salaries to avoid layoffs, Mortimer said.

Sen. Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican who chairs the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said that most of the districts’ problems came as a result of flaws in the previous school funding formula. The block grant overhaul set aside $4 million to aid districts that had “extraordinary needs” this fiscal year, but Masterson urged council members not to spend too liberally.

“If you attempt to use those funds for the purpose of fixing all of the garbage from the old system, then that’s - I’m not sure where that train gets off,” he said.

The Finance Council also granted districts in Louisburg, Burlington, Pratt, and Cawker City extraordinary funds, but denied the requests by districts in Arkansas City and north and south Lyon County. Budget Director Shawn Sullivan said he recommended their requests be denied because those districts had adequate reserves to cover their unexpected costs.

Brownback said in a statement that all of the districts that applied for funds had received more money than the year before, but, “We recognize unexpected circumstances may arise, therefore it’s good that we have this process to address the needs.”

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