A Sumner Academy of Arts and Science hallway is pictured July 29, 2021, in Kansas City, Kansas. Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools is working on creating its budget for the upcoming school year.
A Sumner Academy of Arts and Science hallway is pictured July 29, 2021, in Kansas City, Kansas. Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools is working on creating its budget for the upcoming school year. (Chase Castor/The Beacon)

Like other area school districts, Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools handles hundreds of millions of dollars. 

With the recent influx of federal COVID relief dollars, it expected revenues of $443 million for the 2021-22 school year. 

The money is used to educate more than 21,000 children across 54 schools and alternative programs, according to the district website

The school board is intensifying its work on the 2022-23 budget as summer approaches. But dealing with the budget is a year-round process that involves the state of Kansas, the federal government and input from the public. 

As in other school districts, school board budget discussions are open to the public. 

At KCKPS, the regular Tuesday board meetings that take place twice a month are livestreamed and archived on the district’s YouTube channel, and many special board meetings are held over publicly accessible Zoom webinars. 

But much of the process of gathering information and calculating revenue and expenses takes place behind the scenes, building toward a final product that has a huge impact on what will take place in schools.

Tracy Kaiser, executive director of business operations for the district, oversees the process in KCKPS.

She said the seven-member Board of Education typically approves the final budget for the upcoming school year in late August. 

But by late September, the district is already gathering enrollment information that will influence the budget for the following year. In January, school board members begin to direct staff on their budget priorities. 

“Budget is my world every day,” Kaiser said. 

Here’s how the timeline works and where there’s room to get involved. 

Fall semester lays groundwork for KCKPS budget

Kansas districts conduct their official count of student enrollment on Sept. 20. 

Kaiser said KCKPS uses that number to create an initial estimate of how many teachers each school will need to maintain a proper student-to-teacher ratio. Schools are able to make adjustments later in the year if enrollment changes drastically. 

The Kansas State Department of Education audits districts’ enrollment and finances annually to confirm the September enrollment numbers, which affect state funding. 

Kaiser said there’s no set process for gathering input from the public during the early stages of budget planning, though there’s an exception for federal relief funds. According to a district presentation on the latest round of COVID relief funding, KCKPS held “listening and learning” sessions, conducted surveys and consulted with advisory committees. 

But people can give feedback at any time, Kaiser said. “We would just always welcome the community to tell us if they have seen needs or would like us to do something different.” 

If someone has an idea for how KCKPS should spend money, Kaiser suggested they start by talking to their local principal. A principal may have enough flexibility in the budget to put an idea into practice that same year, or can propose it during district budget discussions for the upcoming year. 

KCKPS budget discussions increase during spring semester

Around January, Kaiser’s department has a sense of whether district revenues will increase or decrease during the following year. She brings that information to the school board and asks for guidance on programs members are interested in cutting or adding. 

In the following months, the board continues to discuss the budget and make decisions that will affect it. For example, it has already determined that it wants to establish a $15-an-hour minimum wage, which will affect finances in multiple departments, Kaiser said. 

Kaiser’s department also gathers information from each school and department in the district, working to predict their required budgets based on past expenses and upcoming needs. 

In recent years, following a change in state law, each school fills out a needs assessment that includes information about student achievement levels and specific supports they would like to have to improve achievement. 

Those supports could include staff people such as math and reading interventionists — who provide additional help for struggling students — or specialists in teaching the district’s many students whose first language isn’t English. 

On May 13 of this year, the school board began to review and discuss each needs assessment. 

Kaiser said some of the needs each school notes will be covered by Title I funding, which the federal government allocates to schools based on their percentage of low-income students. 

Kaiser said each school gets to decide how to use that money as long as they are following the federal guidelines. If Title I doesn’t cover all the needs, the district can consider using other funds. 

On May 16, Gov. Laura Kelly signed an education budget, giving districts more certainty about how much money they will receive from the state. 

The budget legislation also included new requirements, including that schools should note barriers to student achievement, how they propose to use the budget to overcome them and how long it will take for all students to reach proficiency at their grade levels. 

District budget is finalized over summer

During the summer, Kaiser’s department works on finishing the budget with input from the board and entering it into the required state forms.

By early August, the district publishes the proposed budget and gives the public at least 10 days to consider it. Then it holds a public hearing where anyone from the community can weigh in on the budget or the mill levy. 

The mill levy is the rate at which property owners owe taxes for each $1,000 of assessed value. One mill equals $1 per $1,000. 

The hearing isn’t often well-attended, Kaiser said. “I think there’s maybe one person that usually comes.” 

The board then approves the final version of the budget by Aug. 25.

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Maria Benevento is the education reporter at The Kansas City Beacon. She is a Report for America corps member. Follow her on Twitter @MariaFBenevento.