Wichita school board discusses impact of school-funding lawsuit

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Wichita and other school districts pleased by a recent court ruling on education funding may not see additional money in their budgets anytime soon, a lead attorney for the districts told Wichita school board members Monday.

“I think we’re going to get there, but we’re going to have some contentiousness before we get there,” said John Robb, of Somers, Robb & Robb in Newton.

Robb, lead attorney for Schools For Fair Funding, a coalition of 52 Kansas districts including Wichita, presented information on the recent ruling and its potential impact during the school board’s regular meeting at North High School.

The ruling, handed down earlier this month by a three-judge panel in Topeka, calls current school funding levels unconstitutional “beyond any question,” Robb said. It calls for lawmakers to raise the base per-pupil state aid from $3,838 to $4,492, at a cost of about $437 million statewide.

Wichita’s share of the increases in base state aid, capital outlay matching funds and other monies should be about $59 million, Robb said.

“This was a very, very strong opinion,” he said. “This wasn’t a close call and they just kind of tossed it to the schools.”

But Attorney General Derek Schmidt has appealed the ruling to the Kansas Supreme Court, which isn’t expected to rule until December or later, Robb said. Meanwhile, some state officials say they plan to ask for a stay to keep major funding increases at bay until the higher court rules.

School board member Betty Arnold said she is concerned about school funding while lawmakers “kick the can down the road.”

“Our kids will continue to lose out, continue to suffer. We’re talking about a whole generation that could be lost,” Arnold said.

“Are we just at a standoff here?” asked board member Connie Dietz.

Superintendent John Allison reminded the board and public that “we don’t have a check” from the state ruling. In fact, he said, proposals to keep education funding flat could result in “significant cuts” to Wichita schools as costs continue to rise.

“Flat isn’t really flat,” Allison said.

Also on Monday, Wichita board members approved the purchase of a property near Riverside Leadership Magnet Elementary School that would allow for additional space for bond construction at the school.

The district will pay $82,500 to acquire the property at 1033 N. Porter. The amount includes closing costs and state-mandated relocation costs. It was approved without discussion, as part of the board’s consent agenda.

According to the 2008 bond plan, Riverside Elementary, 1001 N. Porter, is expected to get a new library, classrooms and general building upgrades. The school, built in 1910, is one of the district’s oldest and smallest schools.

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