As the Wichita school district's battle over state funding heads into another year, its legal bills are piling up.
Wichita school board members on Monday voted unanimously to continue their membership in Schools for Fair Funding, a coalition of districts suing the state.
The resolution calls for Wichita to spend up to $6 per student per year on the lawsuit, Gannon v. State of Kansas, which says that current levels of school funding violate the state constitution and deprive students of a suitable education.
That will put the district's total spending so far on the Gannon case at more than $2 million — an amount leaders said is an unfortunate but necessary cost of fighting for more funding.
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"I would never have guessed — what, nine years ago? — when we started this that we'd still be going nine years later," said John Robb, lead attorney for the school districts.
"We've made six trips to the Supreme Court," he said. "So I don't know how you forecast that in advance, other than take it a year at a time and see where it goes."
Wichita is one of 40 districts still helping to finance the lawsuit. When it was filed in 2010, 72 districts were part of the Schools for Fair Funding coalition.
The Kansas Supreme Court ruled last fall that the level of funding for schools was unconstitutional, and it ordered the Legislature to come up with a solution.
The Wichita district projects about $19 million in additional funding for the coming fiscal year.
The school districts contend, however, that the new state law still falls up to $1.5 billion short.
Board member Ernestine Krehbiel said Monday that even with an approved increase to base per-student state aid, the level still is about $1,000 below what the base aid was a decade ago.
"When we are saying there needs to be more money, it is not that this school district or any of the schools are all that money-hungry," Krehbiel said. "We're just trying to get back to where it once was.
"Because yes, we're excited if this (additional funding) will come through. But yes, it's not enough," she said.
Over the past two years, Wichita, the state's largest district, has received at least $47.3 million in new state funding, said district spokeswoman Susan Arensman. Over the next four years, assuming there are no changes to the current funding formula or enrollment, it expects an additional $43 million, she said.
For the most part, school board members have argued that litigation has been an investment and is the only way to secure appropriate funding for schools. Other districts helping to pay for the lawsuit include Kansas City, Kan., Dodge City and Hutchinson.
"These districts are engaged on behalf of their students in trying to get adequate resources to address the achievement issues for their kids," said Robb, the attorney.
"It's not that they have some desire to litigate forever. I don't think anybody wants that," he said. "But we just don't seem to be able to get to a conclusion that actually solves the problem.
"So the districts are going to stick with it until we actually solve the problem."
If history is any indication — a previous lawsuit, Montoy v. Kansas, lasted seven years — the district's legal expenses likely will continue.
For how long? That's hard to say.
"'When does it end?' isn't really in our court if they don’t fix it," Robb said.