A proposed constitutional amendment regarding educational funding that passed in the Kansas Senate Wednesday has local school superintendents concerned.
The amendment would block the courts from deciding disputes on how much the state spends on its public schools. It would add a new sentence declaring the Kansas Legislature has the exclusive power to determine the funding.
The Senate's recent 27-13 vote came six weeks after a lower court ruled legislators aren't adequately funding schools as the constitution requires. A lawsuit in the Kansas Supreme Court on the topic is pending.
Critics said the change would eliminate any check on the legislature if it chronically underfunded schools. But supporters argued they're trying to make sure elected legislators make decisions about state spending instead of unelected judges, according to the Associated Press.
McPherson County school superintendents said the movement in Topeka doesn't promise any optimism about school funding that already seems inadequate.
"The programs we have are somewhat maxed out," said Bill Seidl, Canton-Galva superintendent.
USD 419 has already been forced to cut programs in the past several years, and funding is needed now, he said.
"We're getting along OK, and I think the reason is everybody's stepped up to the plate, and they've made the sacrifices needed, but eventually that runs out."
Superintendent Glen J. Suppes of Smoky Valley said he also is concerned about funding. USD 400 had major cuts in 2009, 2010 and 2011, which were not restored in 2012 budget.
Because of a loss of enrollment, the district is faced with additional cuts.
"Our costs continue to rise," he said. "We are asked to comply with additional unfunded mandates and meet many more individual needs with no new money. Additional expenses and reduced revenue will lead to staff cuts for fiscal year 2014."
Randy Watson, superintendent of McPherson schools, said the district has been able to absorb some of the rising general operating costs, but some employee salaries are suffering.
"We would love to be able to play our people more than minimum wage," he said. "We can't do that because we just don't have the funds to do it."
Funding, however, is out of the district's hands. The Senate's action sent the proposal to the House. If both chambers vote in favor of it, the amendment to the constitution would be placed on August 2014 ballots.
Watson doesn't foresee it getting that far. If it does, however, the district would be forced to make more budget cuts, which could include activities, staff and other areas.
"We don't ever think it's good policy that if you're upset with a decision that you'd want to change the constitution," Watson said. "I think that is a dangerous precedent."
Chad Higgins, superintendent of Moundridge schools agrees.
Page 2 of 2 - "There's checks and balance system for a reason," he said. "If Kansas understood what this was really about they wouldn't approve it."
Seidl said the state's repeated years of inadequate funding might end if legislators would visit the schools more often and better understand the need for it.
"I don't know if they recognize that or not," he said. "If it isn't about kids, really, what are we doing?"
Contact Jenae Pauls at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @PaulsSentinel