District to vote on suing state

Wichita school board members are set to vote Monday on whether the state's largest school district will take the state to court over school funding.

Board members will vote whether to pay up to $5 per student to file a suit with a coalition of school districts during the special board meeting at 7 p.m. in the North High School Lecture Hall.

State cuts have reduced Wichita's budget by $34 million of its expected $600 million this year. Superintendent John Allison last week announced a hiring freeze and elimination of out-of-state travel for employees.

The school district coalition, Schools for Fair Funding, agreed earlier this month to take legal action against the state for slashing school aid.

First, the group will try to reopen a previous lawsuit that resulted in a 2005 Kansas Supreme Court ruling that the state needed to pay more money to schools. K-12 schools have received an additional $600 million since 2006 because of legislative changes to fulfill the court order.

If the Supreme Court won't reopen the old lawsuit, the schools would pursue a new one. Reopening the old one would bring the case to trial about six months earlier.

The Wichita board voted in November to pay $89,000 to become a full member of Schools for Fair Funding. By agreeing to pay for a suit, the board is authorizing spending $134,000 more — or roughly $223,000 total.

The money comes from part of the district's operating budget that is funded by local property taxes.

Representatives from almost 70 districts voted unanimously Dec. 18 to sue the state, but each school board will have to individually approve paying more for the legal action. Three of the seven Wichita board members at the meeting said they supported a suit.

Also on the Wichita board's agenda Monday is a closed meeting that includes discussion of property.

Board members delayed earlier this month their decision on a land deal that would buy property for a new southeast Wichita high school in exchange for putting land up for sale at the existing Northwest High School.

The deal is scheduled for public discussion Jan. 11, when "additional information" that caused the postponement will be discussed, school leaders said.