Author Archives: Steve Splichal

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Walking the Path to Cuts

I’ve heard it said that the only way to digest a dinosaur is by eating it one bite at a time.  Trying to wrap your mind around the topic of school finance in Kansas right now is very much the same way.  The goal of this post is to provide some framework to help you understand why our school district in Eudora is talking about budget cuts and increased fees, and the reason for the special board meeting scheduled for this Wednesday evening.

In March, Governor Brownback signed a bill passed by the Kansas Legislature that replaces the school finance formula with a “block grant” system of funding for the next two years. (This was done with Senate Bill 7.)  The previous formula distributed money to school districts based on the number students in our schools on September 20th each year.  Let me point out that this formula has been litigated just twice since it was passed into law in 1992.  In both instances, it was not the formula that was called into question, but rather the legislature’s unwillingness to fund the formula as the law is written.

I want to begin this discussion of our district’s situation with my three biggest concerns about the block grant system and its effect on Eudora Schools:

  • First, frozen funding, regardless of enrollment.  Under the old formula, Eudora and all Kansas districts would receive more funding if district enrollment goes up, and less funding if enrollment goes down. Under the block grant, the amount of money is “frozen” for two years.  In a district like ours, where enrollment continues to slowly increase every year, we will have to spread a set number of  dollars out over a larger number of students.  If the old formula were still in place, our district could have realized as much as $100,000 in new money next year, simply based on projected increases in enrollment.
  • Next, I’m concerned with a decrease in equalization on state aid. State aid is based on the property wealth of a school district, divided by the number of students enrolled in the district.  Because our district’s assessed valuation per pupil is among the lowest in the state, we receive a substantial amount of state aid for our Capital Outlay and Local Option Budget (LOB).  In Eudora, this decrease in equalization results in a net loss of $134,000 in operational funds for next year.  Given that the block grant system is written to last for two years, we will also lose $134,000 in operational funds the following  year.
  • My third concern is that the block grant bill was written as a policy bill, not appropriations. This means the legislature must find the money to fund this each year.  And as of today, the Legislature has not appropriated any dollars to pay for the new block grant formula. Economists and financial experts across the state agree that the Legislature must increase state revenue in order to have the resources to fund the block grant.  A lack of adequate revenue will almost assuredly result in additional cuts to K-12 education over the next month or two, as the state cannot carry a negative cash balance.

When you consider these three concerns, it becomes clear that we in Eudora must plan for substantial measures to our district operating budget for the 2015-2016 school year.

Budget cuts and increased fees are painful, and they are the direct result of the failure of the Kansas Legislature to uphold its Constitutional duty to adequately fund public schools.

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$1 million in new money?

There is a lot of information being passed around that shows the Eudora School District receiving over $1 million in new money over the life of the block grant.  It would be a tremendous investment, if it were true.

The block grant system passed in March includes KPERS funding in its calculations.  The Kansas Public Employees Retirement System is a statewide defined benefit system for state and local public employees.  Every district employee has KPERS contributions deducted from their monthly paychecks, and the state has responsibility to fund the employer portion.  Together, that money is distributed to employees after retirement.  Right now, the state of Kansas sends us the employer portion of KPERS payments ($891,000 this year), and we are required to send that money right back to Topeka for payment to retirees.  Each school district has to count that money as part of their state aid, yet it is money that we neither control nor spend.

Property tax relief is another factor here. Last year when you received your property tax statement from Douglas County, it included a marked decrease in the school district’s overall mill rate.  The local option budget mill rate was decreased by the board’s action by 11.830 mills last summer.  This substantial decrease was the result of legislation passed last spring when the Kansas Legislature approved an increase in state aid for the LOB and Capital Outlay funds.  For a large number of districts (including Eudora), the appropriation of state aid to school districts was passed on to patrons as property tax relief.   We could not spend the money, since we were already at our statutory limit of 30%, so the funds were passed on to our patrons and businesses in the form of lower property tax.

When you add up the KPERS payments — funds that we are unable to spend on operational expenses — and the tax relief that resulted from a lowered district mill rate in August 2014, you’ll see how some people might argue that districts are receiving more money than they have in the past. But if you take a moment to understand what those dollars represent, you’ll quickly determine that they do nothing to offset the significant total of operational funds we’re losing.

In this shell game, Eudora’s students, employees, and schools lose. Big time.

And our costs keep rising…

Keyboard arrowsIf you manage a household budget, or work in a business environment, you know as well as I do: The cost of doing business goes up a little every year.  Depending on the item, it may go up a lot.

Schools are no different.  When the price of a gallon of milk goes up at the grocery store, we see the same increase for our food service program.  Our district has benefited — as we all have — from the substantial decrease in motor fuel costs this year.  (If only gas prices would stay that low!)  In addition to projecting increases in fuel costs, we have been told to expect an increase of 5% in our electrical and natural gas expenses.

The school district will see an increase in expenses next year, simply by opening our doors.  One of the most significant increases in operations will come in the form of special education expenses.  We know that some of our students require more support than other students, but the funding that we receive for special education programs does not cover the costs of the supports these children truly need.  We are partners with the Baldwin and Wellsville school districts to form the East Central Kansas Special Education Cooperative in Education.  Participating in this co-op helps spread the costs of services for our students to, in turn, help keep all three partners’ costs down.  However, we are increasing our financial investment in the special education co-op annually in order to provide those services, despite little to no increase in special education funding from the state.

When we consider increasing costs of running a school district, we must include the rising costs of insurance, one of those “necessary evils.”  While most people don’t don’t necessarily like to pay it, we know that when the time comes that we really need it, we want it to be there for us.  Every year the costs associated with insurance continue to rise.  We have been told by our provider that we should plan on an increase, and the current industry standard increase is somewhere between 8-10%.  This applies to our health insurance, as well as our property insurance.

The cold, hard truth 

Flat funding with growing enrollment, together with increased operational expenses — have placed us in a position where we must consider a combination of district budget cuts and student fee increases.  Flat funding is a product of the Kansas Legislature and our Governor.

Changes in tax policy will be needed in order to prevent the state from falling into a deeper deficit.  But until the leaders in Topeka pursue this course of action, the budget crisis created from reckless tax cuts in 2012 will continue to be balanced on the backs of Kansas students, families, schools and communities.

YOU can make a difference

Contact your elected officials — as often as you are able — and tell them that the state must find ways to increase revenue. Our students, schools,and community will continue to suffer until funding is restored.

 

Defining College and Career Readiness

You just couldn’t ask for a better day to be outside.  To top it all off, we had a chance today to spend some time at the Eudora-De Soto Technical Education Center for our first annual car show.  Mother Nature couldn’t have provided a better day to spend enjoy some world-class pulled pork tacos as well as custom cars, tractors and bikes.

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I want to take my hat off to several Eudora High School staff members who really stepped up to make this event possible.  Chris Paxton – auto collision, Andrea Pyle – health care, Chef Jack Low – culinary arts, Mitch Tegtmeier – wood working instructor.  Our students benefit because of the level of commitment that our staff members give every day to our students.

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The best part of the day was really being able to see our students engaged in true college and career readiness today.  We had an awesome demonstration of what is possible when you combine real-world experience with engaged students and dedicated staff.

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Kudos also goes out to members of our community and their support for vocational programs.  I am truly amazed at the number of truly quality programs that our students are able to participate in.  Students are able to experience professions that we simply did not have exposure to when I was in school.  (My cooking skills could have certainly used a culinary class!)

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Our students overhauled the body of the pickup shown above.  The truck along with other items were auctioned off today.  All of the proceeds from the effort today go back into programs benefiting our students.  I am proud to be part of an organization that truly defines college and career readiness.

Answering the Call

We have all been called upon at various times in our lives to make a difference.  Whether it is in your school, your church or your community, we all have those times when we hear the call.  The question before us is how do we respond?  Will we choose to turn and walk away?  Will we choose to rise to the occasion, regardless of the potential consequences?

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Public education in Kansas is calling on all of us today.  We are seeing a careful and calculated attack on the institution that forms the cornerstone of our society.  Funding, taxes, control of the process have all become the the focal point of a group set on taking education back.

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Ben Franklin once said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”   The system of public education in Kansas makes all other professions possible.  It is a system designed to improve lives and communities, regardless of your zip code.  Families in Eudora, like all communities across the state, understand the value of an education and the lifelong opportunities that an education can provide.  Our families also understand that none of our children are exactly alike.  Each and every one of them has unique needs and personalities that are just a part of what makes them special.

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I had the opportunity to join today with some very special people who chose to answer the call to support public education in Kansas.  They chose to do so not for money, or credit or popularity.  Rather, they chose to answer the call for one very important reason: the children of Kansas.  Over the past few years, they’ve shown many ways of answering the call. They have a vibrant advocacy community online and have spoken to groups across the state, making sure Kansans know what’s really at stake — and what some powerful people in Topeka are really doing to our schools.

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And for the third year in a row, they’re taking nearly four days to walk from Johnson County to Topeka. As Game On leaders have said before, “We would walk to the ends of the earth for our children. Topeka isn’t that far.”

Regardless of where you reside in Kansas — the “Oasis of the Plains” in Colby, or Wichita, Kansas City or Eudora — our children are our most precious resource and worthy of our investment.  It has been said that “Education is a passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”

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Thank you to these dedicated parents and volunteers — and all of those who answered the call this morning to support our students.

Game on!

Block Grant Funding System Hurts Eudora

Late last week the Kansas Legislature proposed a new way to fund public schools. If approved, a “block grant” system would replace the school funding formula that’s been in place for 22 years.

Here are some important things to understand about the block grant system:

  • Every district will receive a set amount of funds, and this funding will be frozen for at least the next two years. This means there would be no additional funds for increases in student enrollment or increased needs of students, such as growth in the number of at-risk students.
  • State equalization aid on the Local Option Budget is reduced and folded into each district’s block grant. This is especially harmful to Eudora because we are a property-poor district that relies on equalization to provide a high-quality education to our students.
  • Analysis of the plan shows that it cuts Kansas school aid $51M this year. There will be some who argue that Kansas schools are getting MORE money in this plan. However, any increases in Eudora are funds for KPERS, the employee retirement program. These funds cannot be spent in the classroom and should not be considered as such.

So, what does all this mean in Eudora? Under the plan, we are set to lose $180,895 in the general fund, LOB and capital outlay funds beginning July 1 for the next school year, but the overall impact of the block grant system will be far worse and creates a shortfall of more than $450,000 next year, even by conservative projections. A set amount of funding over the next two years (or more) fails to account for:

  • Standard increases in operational expenses. Industry partners have already recommended that we budget 5% increase in utility costs and rate hikes, as well as a 8-10% increase in insurance premiums.
  • All but certain increases we can expect in the costs of fuel, paper and other materials.
  • Basic salary increases for our 250 employees cost the district approximately $150,000 per year.
  • Increases in enrollment and/or student needs – increases that we see nearly every year in Eudora. If you consider the block grant funds as a big pie sliced by the number of students, each slice of pie gets smaller, the more students and/or student needs are added.

It’s not hard to see that the proposed block grant system will hurt Eudora Schools, and districts all across our state. Once again, this is an example of the legislature trying to solve a state revenue crisis on the backs of students, schools and local communities. Today and this week, please do what you can to spread the word about the effect that a block grant funding system would have on our schools.

Why block grants?

One stated purpose of the block grant plan is to allow the legislature time to write a completely new school finance formula. Let me also take this opportunity to point out that the existing school funding formula works – and has been exceptionally good for Eudora.

Some say that a new funding system is needed because the current formula is “too complicated.” Providing fair funding to nearly 300 diverse school districts is complex — rural, urban, suburban … rich, poor, middle class —  but this formula does just that! And every single year, the funding it provides to districts adapts and changes, based on the real needs and actual enrollment of a district.  We only receive funding for the students who are physically in our buildings.   The formula works.

Some say that the formula needs to be rewritten because it is “broken,” but nothing could be further from the truth. Nationwide, Kansas public schools outperform most states. Only seven states have better academic results across multiple measures of achievement. None of those seven spend less per pupil, and all have a lower percentage of low-income, at-risk students than Kansas. The formula works.

Some say that the formula is bad because it’s been tied up in court for decades. But the reality is, the only lawsuits filed in the last 22 years have focused on failure of the legislature to adequately fund the formula. As many times as the formula has been discussed in a courtroom, it’s never been argued that the formula itself fails to meet the needs of students. The formula works.

The formula today — as it was written in 1993 — is built to fund all of these diverse districts fairly so that every child in Kansas has access to an outstanding public education, regardless of zip code.

Block grant funding does not.

As I’ve shared before, NOW IS THE TIME to speak up for our school district, our community, and our students. The stakes have never been higher. We have everything to lose.


Additional resources:

  • Contact me any time for more information about our budget or the way that decisions in Topeka affect our schools.
  • Go to Open Kansas to find out who represents you — and how to contact them.
  • Here is a terrific, simple article from the Mainstream Coalition of the current finance formula and why it works.

We Have Everything to Lose

There are few times worse than when you learn that the district you lead — the one you care most about — may likely lose the funding it needs to provide a great education to the students you serve. That time is now.

While we work to finish up the current fiscal year (including finding ways to absorb the $81,000 cut from Governor Brownback), we also are looking ahead to the 2015-2016 budget year, which will begin July 1. And while the legislature hasn’t yet introduced any bills addressing school funding for next year, there’s one thing we know for sure:

Kansas isn’t taking in enough tax dollars to make ends meet.

Kansas Center for Economic Growth graphicKansas doesn’t have enough money to pay for public schools, roads, and a host of other essential services that have defined our state for generations. The tax cuts passed in 2012, which slashed personal income tax for the wealthiest Kansans and small business owners, have caused this crisis. Unsurprisingly, these reckless tax cuts have resulted in dangerously low revenues for our state.

We won’t know for certain what we’re facing in Eudora until April or May, but most estimates right now point to a budget cut here of $500,000, likely more. Let me be clear: Cuts this size will fundamentally change our schools as we know them right now. There is no more “fat” to cut in our budget — only bone. This is going to hurt everyone.

Often, I hear suggestions from people in our district and community about possible ways that we could offset massive budget cuts. But when you think about a $500,000 budget hole, please keep these facts in mind…

  • Small class size has been a priority of our board for many, many years and was specifically named as one of four district core values in 2009. We typically budget roughly $50,000 per teaching position, to include salary and benefits. It would take eliminating 10 teaching positions to even come close to offsetting state budget cuts of this magnitude — and this would have an immediate and noticeable impact on class size.
  • Sports and activities, along with academic programs, create a well-rounded education for Eudora students. Many of these events also generate revenue through gate tickets and concessions. Plus, eliminating all sports programs in our district wouldn’t even add up to $100,000.
  • For years, Eudora had no student fees. Since implementing fees to offset state budget cuts in 2010, our board has worked hard to keep them as low as possible because board members understand the challenges of family budgets. Across the district, student fees raise approximately $48,000 each year, with another $33,000 in kindergarten fees.
  • The free shuttle system for all students helps us overcome a lack of community-wide safe routes to school, including K-10 running through the middle of town. The free shuttle system transports students to and from schools safely and costs district taxpayers approximately $90,000 a year.

These facts make it clear: There just aren’t any easy answers. (*Please see note below.) If you care about a quality education in Eudora, please take time TODAY and contact the people elected to represent you in Topeka. Here are links to the officials who represent voters in our district:

If you live in another Kansas district, go to http://openkansas.org/ to find your elected officials and their contact information.

Send a letter or an e-mail — or best yet, make a phone call. Tell them why Eudora Schools matters to you. And tell them that full funding of the finance formula is the only way to protect our kids, our district, our community — and our future.

Finally, please watch and share this video. Help others know that we truly do have everything to lose, if we don’t act now!

 

*NOTE: I want to be crystal clear here that the bullet list of budget facts above, and the items depicted in the video, are not proposals that the board is currently considering. When we know what the cuts at the state level will be, our board will communicate a range of cut options to the families and patrons of our district. Depending on the level of funding cuts from the state, every area of our district’s operations could absolutely be at risk.


Want to know more about the numbers? Here are a few additional resources to consult.

  • Here’s our district budget. Remember, these documents were adopted by the Eudora Board of Education in August 2014, so they don’t reflect the $81,000 cut that Governor Brownback announced for the current budget year. This cut — $42 in base state aid per pupil – leaves the district with fewer dollars than last year that can be spent on classroom and student programs.
  • An easy-to-understand blog from Duane Goossen, showing how the 2012 tax cuts have affected state job growth and crippled the state budget. Mr. Goossen was a seven-term member of the Kansas House of Representatives and a budget director for 12 years under three governors (both Republican and Democratic). He now works for the Kansas Center for Economic Growth, a trustworthy, non-partisan resource for understanding how the state’s budget affect school districts, communities and everyday Kansans.
  • Another helpful Duane Goossen blog shows what state revenue means to the overall state budget and shares signs to watch for when revenue estimates are announced each month.
  • Contact me! I’ve already heard from a number of caring and concerned parents and patrons, and I thank everyone who’s taken the time to write or call me. I would be happy to talk or sit down with anyone who wants to understand more about how school funding and the state funding formula affects the district budget. E-mail me any time — stevesplichal@eudoraschools.org — or call my office at 785-542-4910.

 

Well-Rounded Eudora Students

IMG_1334On Tuesday evening, I had a chance to sit and listen to our band program.  The program began with our youngest participants (6th graders) and ended with our high school band.  As I listened to their performances, I was taken by a couple key notions.

The first was that it was truly amazing to sit and listen to the development of the individual bands over time.  The selections played by the sixth graders were shorter and focused on basic skills.  The seventh and eighth grade band played selections that were not only longer but also more challenging.  Our high school students really capped off the evening.

In reflecting, the band’s performance really mirrors the growth of our children.  Over time (with love, nurturing, and guidance), students mature and begin to make decisions anIMG_1331d solve real world problems.  Thanks to adults both in and out of school, our students are afforded an environment here in Eudora that allows them to fully develop into their greatest potential.

The second key notion that I reflected on is the role that each and every course and activity has in providing students with experiences, not only for their individual development, but life in general.  We understand that in addition to the wide variety of core curriculum our students can experience, there must be opportunities and exposure to career and technical programs,  fine arts, academic and sport programs.  I believe that we all desire our students to be well-rounded and capable of making positive life-long choices after they graduate from Eudora.  Each of these programs play a role in molding our students into the citizens they will be.

IMG_1335It was a great concert — I could have sat and listened all evening long!

Board tour reflections

It was a great day for Eudora Schools — a day that connected our school board members directly to the teaching, learning and facilities in our schools. 



This was the first time (in anyone’s memory, at least) that members of the Eudora Board of Education spent the day touring our schools and buildings and learning about the opportunities and challenges in each. The time we spent was to ensure that our board members have background information as they make decisions about our facility and maintenance needs from month to month and year to year. After all, it can be difficult for board members, who usually meet in the evening, to visualize the way our facilities function and feel. 



It was a long day, but three things really stick in my mind, as I think back:

  1. We have gifted leadership on our board! Eudora is incredibly fortunate to have such dedicated leaders who are genuinely interested in doing what’s best for Eudora students. 
  2. Our employees and students are amazing! We had a great breakfast in the EES cafeteria and lunch in the EMS cafeteria. We saw the outstanding job our custodians, maintenance and grounds crews do. We popped through several classrooms to see inspired teaching and learning. And we witnessed some of the most respectful, well-behaved kids you can imagine. 
  3. Our community has made continuous investments in public education. You don’t just end up with facilities like we have here — this happens because local taxpayers invest in public schools. In Eudora, you’ve invested time and money, and you work hard every day over the long term to take care of your investments. 



I, for one, do not take any of these things for granted. It’s great to be in Eudora, and it’s my goal to work with our board, our employees and our community to support and grow the awesome things that we have going for us.

It was a great day! 



Message from the Superintendent

Dear friend of Eudora Schools:

As you may have heard, this afternoon Governor Sam Brownback announced 1.5% in school district “allotments” – cuts that don’t require legislative approval – effective March 7. In Eudora, this translates to an $81,000 cut to our current budget. This is not good news.

It will take me some time to formulate a plan to address this cut, but I will be working with building and district leaders to find the solutions that – though painful – are the most appropriate. In the meantime, I have asked each of the outstanding professionals who make up our district to do what they can to reduce use of resources and delay any and all purchases until further notice.

I must also note that the legislature is currently working two bills. Senate Bill 71 would cut approximately $75,000 from the current fiscal year from our local option budget. Senate Bill 4 would delay a portion of capital outlay payments from this current budget year until June. Please understand, the measures being discussed in Topeka are only temporary fixes to the current budget year. Given revenue forecasts, there is every reason to expect the pain of cuts to schools will continue for some time.

This news is upsetting in many, many ways. Sadly, it is news that many have seen coming for quite some time. Until the governor and state lawmakers choose to restore revenue streams – most notably, the tax plan passed in 2012 that has brought us to this point – Eudora Schools and districts all across our state will suffer.

If you’d like to see the budget documents for our district, including our cash balances, go to: http://bit.ly/1zTf85k for documents you can download. Please also feel free to contact me if you’d like any additional details.

Thank you for your patience during this time. Our district’s greatest strength is the loyal support we receive from our community. I urge you to contact your legislators as soon as possible and tell them that these cuts are hurting Eudora kids and Eudora families.

Sincerely,

Steve Splichal
Superintendent of Schools

stevesplichal@eudoraschools.org
785-542-4910

Kansas School Finance Formula

At first glance, the Kansas school finance formula — the way that the state fulfills its constitutional duty to provide an adequate public education to all Kansas students — is complicated.

But keep in mind that the work of educating all students is a complicated task! The Kansas landscape includes densely populated urban and suburban areas, but it also includes small, remote districts surrounded by hundreds of miles of farmland. And every community is different. Our challenges and our opportunities are different, based on the community where we live and the students and families we serve.

It is important to realize that some students require more resources to educate, and this creates more expenses. The general fund has “weightings,” which add to the amount of funding a school receives. In Eudora, we receive weighting funds for students in our high school career/technical education courses, special education, students who qualify for free/reduced lunches and those who are transported to school.

The genius of this formula is that it was built to respond immediately to changes in a local district, if there are population changes, a decrease or increase in the number of at-risk students, each year. (If you’ve heard about a proposal to fund public schools through block grants, keep in mind that it would be incredibly difficult for this type of a system to be responsive to our district in the same way.)

First adopted in 1993, the Kansas school finance formula has managed to ensure stability and success for every community in Kansas, in spite of the wide variety of local needs each district naturally has. Public schools will look different in Wichita, or Kansas City Kansas, or Blue Valley, than they do in Eudora. And that’s because our communities are different. But the finance formula was written to ensure equity — that each community, regardless of zip code, would have the resources necessary to provide their students a high-quality public education.

So, the next time you hear someone say that we should rewrite the finance formula because it’s broken, or because it’s too complicated, I hope you’ll take a moment to respond with something along these lines…

If we get a new finance formula for Kansas schools, let’s just make sure it still meets the complicated needs of every local district in the state, and that it can change and adapt each year as local districts change.

And — although it should go without saying — let’s make sure the Kansas Legislature does what it takes to fund the formula completely. Because in the end, a partially-funded formula just doesn’t work.

Capital Outlay

The Capital Outlay Budget is made up of funds that, by law, can only be spent on very specific things. Traditionally, capital outlay funds could only be spent on expenses related to building or maintaining facilities and purchasing certain equipment.

In 2014, the Kansas Legislature allowed a bit more flexibility in how capital outlay funds could be spent, permitting districts to also use the money to pay for custodial/maintenance expenses, as well as certain uniforms. Districts are allowed to collect a maximum of 8 mills in Capital Outlay, and in Eudora we have done that. This is an area of the budget where districts are allowed to carry over funds from one budget year to the next. For many districts, it is the fund that will pay for a boiler going down or a roof blowing off a building. Given the costs of things today (a bus at $80,000 or a new roof at several hundred thousand), it is important for districts to maintain a positive balance in this fund.

According to the state finance formula, capital outlay budget equalized with state aid to assist property-poor districts that are unable to raise as many mills as districts with greater property wealth.