There are five candidates hoping to represent District 25 in the Kansas House.
Roeland Park City Councilwoman Megan England will face former Roeland Park City Councilman Scott Gregory in the Aug. 7 primary election for the Democratic ticket.
Former Prairie Village Councilman Bill Griffith, PTA mother Melissa Rooker and campaign worker Stephen Foster will face each other in the Republican primary.
The winners will compete against each other in the general election on Nov. 6.
England, 36, says the single most important issue facing Northeast Johnson County is the reduction of funding to the Shawnee Mission School District.
England said that if public education in Kansas was not adequately funded, the state could stop attracting new businesses and future generations would be ill-equipped for a competitive work force necessary to maintain a strong economy.
When asked in a Star questionnaire if she would vote to increase the percentage of local option budget authority allowed school districts under current state law even though it might result in higher property taxes, she said yes.
“Excellent schools are the lifeblood of quality communities and strong economies,” she wrote. “The Shawnee Mission School district has been hit particularly hard recently ranking 265th of the 269 districts in all of Kansas for levels of per-pupil funding by the state. The state-imposed cap on the amount of funding residents can tax themselves to supplement their schools is unconstitutional.”
If elected, she would also like to help boost the state’s economy by creating more jobs, keeping jobs from being exported, supporting local businesses and helping unemployed workers find work.
Gregory, who has been a certified public accountant for 48 years, is running because he thinks the tax bill that passed in the last session is unfair and irresponsible.
In offering an example, he said, “My 95-year-old mother-in law, who has no other income other than Social Security, loses 750 dollars in tax credits. Meanwhile, a doctor or lawyer making $200,000 from his or her practice, will enjoy a tax cut of $13,500. … That’s not fair and it’s not right.”
If elected, he hopes to use his decades of tax expertise to try and reverse the legislation.
Like his opponent, Gregory thinks the most pertinent issue facing the residents of District 25 is school funding.
He said schools have already been cut to the bone, with layoffs, cut programs, increase in class sizes and exorbitant student fees. He worries the tax bill passed in the last legislative session will prompt more drastic cuts, including school closings.
He does not support increasing the percentage of local option budget authority allowed school districts under current state law. Messing with the authority ignores the real issue: inadequate school funding from the state, he said.
On the Republican side, education is also a hot topic.
Griffith, who was also raised in District 25, cites school finance as his No. 1 issue.
One of his frustrations, he said, is that the current state funding formula provides the Shawnee Mission School District with less than half the base aid than other districts receive. He thinks a re-examination of the formula for base student aid per pupil and an increase in the local option budget authority is critical.
“By any measure, we spend a fraction on education that we have historically spent,” said Griffith, when responding to the subject on a Star questionnaire. “I believe education is a core responsibility of state and local government and adequate funding will be my highest priority. The current funding formula that severely penalizes Shawnee Mission must be overhauled.”
The former Prairie Village councilman, who now lives with his wife and two children in Fairway, also said if elected, he would advocate a more consistent tax policy, which focuses revenue decisions on the coming decade, rather than the next year.
Rooker, who has spent the past three years as a board member and legislative liaison for the Shawnee Mission Area Council PTA, said if she were elected, bringing more money to Kansas schools would be her top priority.
The Fairway mother of two would like to not only revise the funding formula for the long term, but she wants to advocate for short-term relief for Kansas schools in the form of increases to the base aid and local option budget.
“Recognizing that there are great differences between our rural, urban and suburban schools, we should have a funding mechanism that reflects those differences,” Rooker said. “However, while such changes are being contemplated, we have an obligation to our children, our businesses, and communities to find ways to better fund our schools under the current formula.”
She also cites the looming cost of the tax package just passed as one of the biggest problems Kansas is facing right now, because it will take money from schools and create dire consequences for local government and communities. Rooker thinks the Legislature needs responsible decision makers who will help balance tax policy.
Stephen Foster, who has five sons, agrees with his opponents that one of the most vital issues facing District 25 is inadequate school funding.
He says Kansas needs a plan to provide stable funding for all of its schools. Some of his suggestions include setting the base state aid per pupil to the level set by state law, a Property Tax Equalization Fund, a Supplemental Equalization, and allowing unlimited local control of property taxes for educational purposes.
Foster, who is married to Roeland Park Mayor Adrienne Foster, also would like to revitalize northeast Johnson County as a state representative by supporting local businesses, bringing new businesses to the area, and support cities by not providing unfunded mandates.
“We need to keep taxes low to encourage businesses to come to Kansas,” he said. “We need to encourage our workforce and future generations so that they’re educated and/or skilled in a trade required to succeed. It is proven that an educated workforce will yield higher wages.”