Saying they don't want school funding to come to a lawsuit, Wichita school board members voted unanimously Monday to spend more than $89,000 to join a coalition of schools whose previous lawsuit forced a massive increase in state funding.
The full membership would give the state's largest district a vote along with dozens of other school districts that belong to Schools for Fair Funding. Since 2005, the Wichita district has been an associate member, which carries dues of $19,500 and no vote.
"Being a part of the voice, of the discussion, is very important," superintendent John Allison said. "We are decreasing funding at a time most states are increasing funding."
The coalition hasn't voted on whether to sue the state after this year's round of cuts, which are only expected to deepen. The Wichita district has lost about $21 million in state aid, and Allison said Monday the district might face an additional $10 million reduction in state money in the next quarter.
Schools for Fair Funding is best known for representing districts in the 2005 Kansas Supreme Court decision that ruled the Legislature wasn't fulfilling its constitutional obligation to adequately fund public schools. For the past several years, the Legislature has increased the money going to schools.
School board member Lynn Rogers said he hopes the schools won't have to resort to a lawsuit. And he said he knows that deciding to pay for the membership won't necessarily be politically popular. He said he already has heard concerns from constituents.
"I did not join this board to be anything but a board member," he said. "It will get dirty. It will get nasty. We'll get a lot of comments.
"We're not wanting to take anything away from anyone. We're not looking for just tomorrow, but in the future."
The membership money will come out of the part of the district's operating budget that is raised through local property taxes. The district's total budget this year is more than $620 million.
Board vice president Connie Dietz pointed out the district hasn't filled some administrative positions, such as the assistant superintendent for human resources.
"Making a recommendation to expend funds that are not in your budget as a line item is not something I took lightly," Allison said.
He and board members stressed that state schools must work together to fight for funding to educate future Kansas workers.
"If we do not move to this conversation as state, we'll become a ghost state," board president Barbara Fuller said.