Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

USD 501 Cuts $1.8M in Spending ; Cuts: 'We Don't Really Have a Choice at This Point' Says Board Member

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

USD 501 Cuts $1.8M in Spending ; Cuts: 'We Don't Really Have a Choice at This Point' Says Board Member

Article excerpt

Citing fiscal uncertainty amid the state's $400 million budget hole and the inability of lawmakers so far to resolve it, members of the Topeka Board of Education gave the green light Thursday for nearly $2 million in spending cuts.

Board members expressed regret and concern about the impact of the cuts on classrooms and children, but said the $1.8 million in reductions are necessary not only to handle state aid losses so far, but to brace for further cuts.

"We don't really have a choice at this point, " board member Patrick Woods said, calling the decision a direct result of actions in the Legislature.

Board member Nancy Kirk, a former state lawmaker, warned that USD 501 "may have to go back to the drawing board" and carve out more positions or services, because she fears the Legislature will fill its budget hole by reaching a deal that slices more dollars from K- 12 education.

Legislative talks on budget and tax matters have dragged out this year as lawmakers argue over potential combinations of tax hikes and spending cuts to find another $400 million for fiscal 2016, which starts July 1.

Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka, said the Legislature has pushed off passing a budget until "the last hour of the last day," leaving schools in a difficult position.

"The problem with being here so late with large decisions looming, is it does not allow for boards of education to plan," Schmidt said.

In March, lawmakers passed a school finance bill that cut more than $50 million in maintenance and operating dollars from schools.

For USD 501, that meant losing $1.6 million in the current fiscal year, $1.3 million next year and $660,000 for the year after that.

Board members see a high risk that lawmakers will impose further cuts, however, and included therefore in Thursday's spending cuts a cushion of about half a million dollars in extra reductions in case that happens.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, himself a USD 501 teacher, called this a "prudent" strategy. …

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